People's Republic of China  The Early Years

exhibit section showing artifacts and photos

Artifacts on loan, courtesy of:
Letter (copy) - from Senate members to President Truman regarding China's seat in the United Nations, 1950
--Harry Truman Presidential Library and Museum, Independence, Missouri
Handwritten notes (copy) - taken by Vice President Nixon regarding the 1953 China situation.
--Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace, Yorba Linda, California


Mao Zedong launched successive campaigns in the 1950s to modernize China, following the Soviet model of central control for economic production and social uniformity. But China lagged far behind the modern world, and no plan or slogan worked fast enough to satisfy the new Communist regime. Mao's response was to crush all opposition and blame everyone but himself.

"The Chinese people have stood up!" announced Mao Zedong during the creation of the People's Republic of China (PRC) on October 1, 1949, as Chiang Kai-shek and his followers fled to the island of Taiwan. For the first time in decades, a Chinese government was unified.

But moderate domestic policies soon gave way to punishing campaigns against "enemies of the state," actual and potential. Humiliating public trials called for the re-education of scholars and writers who were not concentrating on revolutionary purity. Property was taken from the landlords and distributed among the peasants. And all Chinese citizens were directed to wear only plain cotton uniforms. All opposition to Chinese authority was harshly put down - whether at home or in nearby territories, such as Tibet.

All economic production came under governmental supervision, as well as banking and trade. One of China's most pressing needs - food for 583 million people - was addressed by organizing agriculture into farming collectives. Private enterprise in China was virtually abolished, and for the time being at least, Mao was firmly in control.

Mao surprisingly took the lead in 1956 with "The Hundred Flowers Campaign" based on the classical slogan "Let a hundred flowers bloom, let the hundred schools of thought contend." The campaign was quickly squelched, however, when the Party was bombarded with criticism. Mao defended his actions by suggesting that he convinced "demons and hobgoblins to come out of their lairs in order to better wipe them out."

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exhibit section showing artifacts and photos
Artifacts on loan, courtesy of:
Letter (copy) - regarding Chiang Kai-shek, 1951
--Harry Truman Presidential Library and Museum, Independence, Missouri
CIA Report and Map (copies) - regarding the Chinese Offshore Islands, 1954
Letter and Translation (copies) - from Chiang Kai-shek to Eisenhower, 1956
--Dwight Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, Abilene, Kansas
Framed Portrait - signed by Chiang Kai-shek and sent to Kennedy
--John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, Massachusetts
Telegram (copy) - from Johnson to Chiang, 1964
Letter and Translation (copies) - from Chiang Kai-shek to Johnson, 1965
--Lyndon Johnson Presidential Library and Museum, Austin, Texas

The island of Taiwan (formerly Formosa) became the final refuge of Chaing Kai-shek and his Nationalists. With U.S. support, Taiwan was given the temporary nod by most of the Western world to be the only officially recognized Chinese government. Chiang plotted his return to mainland China to retake the country by force. But because of his weak and corrupt history, the world knew better.

When the Nationalists finally realized that they could not stop the "Red Tide"on the mainland, they fled to the island of Taiwan. Even then, Chiang was defiant. He established martial law and appointed loyal military officers to leadership roles in the newly-formed Republic of China. Chiang declared that Taiwan was "the one and only China."

It was not clear that Taiwan would survive. After World War II, "untrustworthy" was how the U.S. viewed Chiang's government, and President Truman signaled that America would not intervene if the Chinese communists attacked Taiwan. But the Korean War intervened, and the U.S. Navy was sent to protect the island.

After Red China bombarded the tiny offshore islands of Quemoy and Matsu in 1954, the U.S. incorporated Taiwan and its offshore islands into a defensive string that stretched unbroken from Japan south to the Philippines. Under America's protection, Chiang not only survived but was able to devote his life to establishing his particular legacy.

Chiang used the communist rebellion as an excuse to justify his military rule on Taiwan, continuing the inflexibility that marked his regime on the mainland. He and his faction remained in leadership for life. In truth, Chiang's government was no more democratic than Mao's Communist government. In 1971 Taiwan lost China's seat in the United Nations to the Communists.



exhibit section showing artifacts and photos

News Clipping (copy) - "Reds Pour Into Tibet" 1959
Letter and Translation (copies) - from the Dalai Lama to Eisenhower, 1959
--Artifacts on loan, courtesy of the Dwight Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, Abilene, Kansas

The mountainous region of Tibet caused trouble for the People's Liberation Army after China invaded in 1950. The Chinese sent Tibetans to re-education camps and tried to suppress their national religion, but fierce tribesmen rallied behind the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan religious leader. The revolt was harshly put down by Chinese troops, who slaughtered as many as a million Tibetans and destroyed Buddhist shrines and monasteries.

Tibetans expelled Chinese officials and troops from their kingdom in 1911 after being dominated by China for hundreds of years. Tibet maintained its independence under the leadership of the Dalai Lama - the Tibetan god-king who is regarded as the living incarnation of Buddha.

Communist troops invaded Tibet in 1950. The Buddhist government conceded to a treaty that gave domestic power to the Dalai Lama, but turned over foreign and military affairs to the Chinese government. Nevertheless, Chinese troops began to dissolve local governments, sent monks and nuns to re-education camps, and carted off male adults for forced labor. Anyone who opposed this treatment was jailed or executed. Over 6,000 temples and monasteries were destroyed.

Tibetan tribesmen openly defied the Chinese in 1956, and the rebellion grew with the help of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency until 1959. But when a full-scale revolt flared up in the capital of Lhasa, the rebels could not beat the Chinese army. The Dalai Lama escaped, fleeing over the Himalayan mountains to India, where he set up a government-in exile with 100,000 followers.

In 1959 and again in 1961, the United Nations approved resolutions that
deplored the suppression of human rights in Tibet, but no direct assistance was offered. The Tibetan rebellion continued sporadically throughout the years, but to this day, the Dalai Lama continues to reside in India.


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