China’s Communist Party seized power in 1949 after a long guerilla insurgency followed by full-scale war, but the revolution was just beginning. China under Mao narrates the rise and fall of the Maoist state from 1949 to 1976—an epoch of startling accomplishments and disastrous failures, steered by many forces but dominated above all by Mao Zedong.
Mao’s China was defined by two institutions established during the first decade of Communist rule: the Party apparatus, which exercised harsh discipline over members; and a socialist economy modeled after the Soviet Union. Although a large national bureaucracy oversaw this authoritarian system, Mao undermined its operation at every turn. The doctrines and political organization that produced Mao’s greatest achievements—victory in the civil war, the creation of China’s first unifed modern state, a historic transformation of urban and rural life—also generated his worst failures: industrial depression and rural famine during the Great Leap Forward and the violent destruction and stagnation of the Cultural Revolution. Misdiagnosing China’s problems as capitalist restoration and prescribing continuing class struggle against imaginary enemies as the solution, Mao destroyed much of what he had built and left China backward and deeply divided.