Social and Political


Health campaigns

 The CCP embarked on a program to establish a system of healthcare in China and wipe out the diseases that cost so many lives in almost yearly outbreaks. There was some success in combating typhus, plague and syphilis, but the scope of action was limited by the fact that health spending did not rise above 2.6% of the state budget unit 1956. Additionally, attention was often focused on the cities despite the fact that most of those affected by major illnesses lived in the countryside. Science-based health care was slow to be rolled out in rural areas, where practitioners of traditional medicine and acupuncture still numbered almost 500,000 in the mid 1950-s. However, there was significant progress in combatting epidemics. Between 1950-52, over 512 million of China’s 600 million people were vaccinated against smallpox. By 1957, more than two-thirds of China’s 2050 counties had an epidemic prevention station, while cases of typhus dropped 95% in the 1950s1.

 Women’s rights

 Socialism aimed to abolish the traditional societal structures which subjugated women and achieve equality between the sexes. A May 1950 Marriage Law gave women the same legal rights as men and banned polygamy, the sale of girls, foot binding and child marriages, also enshrining the right of women to equal pay, maternal benefits and work-based childcare. An All-China Women’s Federation that aimed to provide support to Chinese women was formed and had 40,000 staff in 83 cities. However, despite the promise of equality, the expectation that women look after the household remained, and often got the less well-paid jobs. An illuminating detail is that the Shanghai Party secretary excluded female homemakers from the ranks of ‘productive people’2. Violence against women also persisted, with a quarter of all criminal cases involving rape in 1952.


Thought reform and Gao Gang affair

 The CCP regime was wary of counter-revolution and aimed to establish control from the early years of its rule.


In 1951 it launched the ‘Three Antis’ (sanfan) campaign, which aimed to tackle ‘corruption, waste and bureaucratism’, with public servants who had worked for the KMT being subjected to the closest scrutiny. The campaign supressed government and capitalist elements that may have had the resources and power to stang against CCP rule. 450,000 businessmen were investigated, their executives given fines or imprisonment and often forced into bankruptcy or ‘voluntary’ nationalisation. On 1 May 1951, 500 people were executed in Shanghai – these included members of criminal gangs and former KT officials. The government bureaucracy, meanwhile, was Maoised by the replacing of old KMT functionaries with Communist cadres. The harsh struggle sessions, societal ostracism and government pressure that many were subjected to under sanfan led to an estimated 200,000-300,000 suicides.


A second campaign, labelled the ‘Five Antis’ (wufan) was launched in 1952, targeting tax evasion, fraud, cheating from government contracts, theft of government and property bribery. The pressure and extortion tactics of the Three Antis were repeated – additionally, ordinary people were mobilised to report on one another. In Shanghai, 99% of businessmen were found to be guilty of at least one of the ‘five antis’.


The CCP’s control over the Chinese population was solidified through the system of danwei work units, into which the people of China were organised – these units controlled everything from housing and welfare to, eventually, the right of couples to have children. The danwei units also acted as spying organisations, with neighbours and colleagues encouraged to report ‘counter-revolutionary’ activity. The CCP thus circumvented the need for a large political policing organisation that would monitor its enemies, as the Chinese people were indoctrinated to play that part themselves. In July 1951, Regulations Governing the Urban Population required that all city dwellers register with the Public Security Bureau, marking the beginning of the removal of the right to free movement.


In the early 1950’s, Mao solidified his authority over the CCP through the so-called ‘Gao Gang affair’. Gao Gang was the leader of the CCP in Manchuria who had been called out to Beijing in late 1952 to be appointed head of the State Planning Commission – he then plotted to become Vice-Chairman of the Party and unseat then-VC Liu Shaoqi. When his plot was uncovered, Gao and his conspirator Rao Rishi, a CCP leader from Shandong, were purged from the party on 31 March 1954 for creating divisions. Those who had stayed faithful to Mao during the affair, meanwhile, were promoted. The Gao Gang affair showed CCP officials that their positions depended entirely on Mao’s favour – historians such as Jonathan Fenby suggest that this led to Mao’s directives being “regarded as gospel, to be picked up, and often exaggerated, by officials down the line” as leading CCP figured preferred to fall in line with the Chairman, and Mao stood “squarely in line of all powerful first emperors”.

 The Hundred Flowers Campaign




  1. Hipgrave, D. (2011). Communicable disease control in China: From Mao to now. Journal of Global Health, 1(2), 224–238. 

  2. Fenby, J., 2009. The Penguin history of modern China: The fall and rise of a great power, 1850-2008. London: Penguin.