The previous articles to this series are as follows –

Part 1 – The Nehruvian Blunders – Part 1

Part 2 – The Nehruvian Blunders – Part 2

Part 3 – The Nehruvian Blunders – Part 3

Part 4 – The Nehruvian Blunders – Part 4

Part 5 – The Nehruvian Blunders – Part 5

Part 6 – The Nehruvian Blunders – Part 6

Part 7 – The Nehruvian Blunders – Part 7

Part 8 – The Nehruvian Blunders – Part 8

The Attack on India

The open split with the Soviet Union, though it can be traced to Mao’s resentment at Khrushchev’s failure to consult him before launching de-Stalinization—resulted, above all, from the Soviet reaction to the Great Leap policies. Khrushchev regarded Mao’s claims for the communes as ideologically presumptuous, and he heaped ridicule on them; he underlined his displeasure by withdrawing Soviet technical assistance in 1960, leaving many large industrial plants unfinished. Khrushchev also tried to put pressure on China in its dealings with Taiwan and India and in other foreign policy issues. Mao forgot neither the affront to his and China’s dignity nor the economic damage.

As for class struggle in China itself, Mao’s fear that revisionism might appear there was heightened by the policies pursued in the early 1960s to deal with the economic consequences of the Great Leap Forward. The response to the famine by Liu Shaoqi (who had succeeded Mao as chairman of the People’s Republic in 1959), Deng Xiaoping, and the economic planners was to make use of material incentives and to strengthen the role of individual households in agricultural production. At first, Mao agreed reluctantly that such steps were necessary, but during the first half of 1962, he came increasingly to perceive the methods used to promote recovery as implying the repudiation of the whole thrust of the Great Leap strategy. It was as a direct response to that challenge that at the 10th Plenary Session of the Central Committee in September 1962 he issued the call, “Never forget the class struggle!”

During the Seven Thousand Cadres Conference in early 1962, Liu Shaoqi, then President of China, formally attributed 30% of the famine to natural disasters and 70% to man-made errors.

Dr Li Zhisui, Mao’s personal physician, wrote in Mao’s biography later that Mao’s support within the Party was waning even after Lushan. In January 1962, when Mao convened another expanded CC to discuss the continuing disaster, his support within the Party was at its lowest. At the meeting, President Shaoqi openly blamed the famine on ‘man-made disasters.’ Shaoqi wanted to bring back the leaders who had been purged, which made Mao furious.

A failed Mao, to win over the masses, show heroism, and regain control inside the Party, waged an attack on India, with his crony Lin Biao.

Before launching the Himalayan military intervention, Beijing sought and received reassurances from both superpowers. The US indicated that it had no immediate plans to either “unleash Taiwan” or to escalate the Indo-China conflict. Moscow, too, sent word that it would remain neutral in case of a Sino-Indian conflict.

In India’s remote and inaccessible Aksai Chin, it was months before New Delhi realised, in 1955, that China was building a road linking Xinjiang and Tibet. In 1961, to overcome the impression that India had not adequately pursued its territorial rights, PM Nehru adopted what came to be known as the “forward policy,” moving its outposts forward and closer to Chinese forces.

Nehru with Sikh Regiment, 1962

The Chinese attack on India took place in two stages; a brief preliminary offensive on October 20, 1962, followed by a massive assault in mid-November, reaching the Himalayan foothills. Indian soldiers fought gallantly in NEFA (now Arunachal) as well as in Ladakh, often to the last man and last bullet, but in vain. The rout lasted all the way up to November 20 when the Chinese declared a unilateral ceasefire and withdrew 20 km north of the LAC.

During the next three years Mao waged such a struggle, primarily through the Socialist Education Movement in the countryside, and it was over the guidelines for that campaign that the major political battles were fought within the Chinese leadership. At the end of 1964, when Liu Shaoqi refused to accept Mao’s demand to direct the main thrust of class struggle against “capitalist roaders” in the party, Mao decided that “Liu had to go.”

Liu’s conflict with Mao

Liu Shaoqi had spoken very strongly in favour of the Great Leap Forward at the Eighth CCP National Congress in May 1958. At this Congress Liu stood together with Deng Xiaoping and Peng Zhen in support of Mao’s policies against those who were more critical, such as Chen Yun and Zhou Enlai.

As a result, Liu gained influence within the party. In April 1959, he succeeded Mao as Chairman of the People’s Republic of China (Chinese President). However, Liu began to voice concern about the outcomes of the Great Leap in the August 1959 Lushan Plenum. In order to correct the mistakes of the Great Leap Forward, Liu and Deng led economic reforms that bolstered their prestige among the party apparatus and the national populace. The economic policies of Deng and Liu were notable for being more moderate than Mao’s radical ideas.

Liu was publicly acknowledged as Mao’s chosen successor in 1961; However, by 1962, when Mao waged the war against India, Liu’s opposition to Mao’s policies had led Mao to mistrust him. After Mao succeeded in restoring his prestige during the 1960s, Liu’s eventual downfall became “inevitable”. Liu’s position as the second-most powerful leader of the CCP contributed to Mao’s rivalry with him at least as much as Liu’s political beliefs or factional allegiances in the 1960s, especially during and after the Seven Thousand Cadres Conference (1962 January 11-February 7), indicating that Liu’s later persecution was the result of a power struggle that went beyond the goals and well-being of either China or the Party.

In a conference at the seaside town resort of Beidaihe in August 1962, Mao blamed the disastrous consequences of his Great Leap Forward on Liu, Zhou, Deng, Chen Yun and other moderates.

According to Roderick MacFarquhar in his book, Origins of the Cultural Revolution (p303), a major build-up of war material and an increase in the number of Chinese troops along the border could be noticed only a few days after the Beidaihe conference was concluded on 27 August.

Liu was labelled as a “traitor” and “the biggest capitalist roader in the Party”; he was displaced as Party Deputy Chairman by Lin Biao in July 1966. By 1967, Liu and his wife Wang Guangmei were placed under house arrest in Beijing. Liu was removed from all his positions and expelled from the Party in October 1968. At Congress, Liu was denounced as a traitor and an enemy agent. Zhou Enlai read the Party verdict that Liu was “a criminal traitor, enemy agent and scab in the service of the imperialists, modern revisionists and the Kuomintang reactionaries”. Liu’s conditions did not improve after he was denounced in the Ninth Party Congress in 1969, and he died soon afterwards.

Liu with Indira Gandhi, 1954

By 1966, few senior leaders in China questioned the need for widespread reform to combat the growing problems of corruption and bureaucratisation within the Party and the government. With the goal of reforming the government to be more efficient and true to the Communist ideal, Liu himself chaired the enlarged Politburo meeting that officially began the Cultural Revolution. However, Liu and his political allies quickly lost control of the Cultural Revolution soon after it was called, when Mao used the movement to progressively monopolize political power and destroy his perceived enemies.

The Cultural Revolution declared in 1966, was overtly pro-Maoist, and gave Mao the power and influence to purge the Party of his political enemies at the highest levels of government. Along with closing China’s schools and universities, and Mao’s exhortations to young Chinese to randomly destroy old buildings, temples, and art, and to attack their teachers, school administrators, party leaders, and parents, the Cultural Revolution also increased Mao’s prestige so much that entire villages adopted the practice of offering prayers to Mao before every meal.

Mao established himself as a demigod accountable to no one, purging any that he suspected of opposing him and directing the masses and Red Guards “to destroy virtually all state and party institutions”. After the Cultural Revolution was announced, most of the senior members of the CCP who had voiced any hesitation in following Mao’s direction, including Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, were removed from their posts almost immediately and, with their families, subjected to mass criticism and humiliation.

Liu and Deng, along with many others, were denounced as “capitalist roaders”. Liu was labelled as a “traitor” and “the biggest capitalist roader in the Party”; he was displaced as Party Deputy Chairman by Lin Biao in July 1966. By 1967, Liu and his wife Wang Guangmei were placed under house arrest in Beijing. Liu was removed from all his positions and expelled from the Party in October 1968. After his arrest, Liu disappeared from public view.

He was denied medicine for his diabetes, and for pneumonia, which developed after his arrest. Liu was eventually given treatment only when Jiang Qing, the actress wife of Mao, feared he would die; she desired that Liu be kept alive to serve as a “living target” during the Ninth Party Congress in 1969.

At Congress, Liu was denounced as a traitor and an enemy agent. Zhou Enlai read the Party verdict that Liu was “a criminal traitor, enemy agent and scab in the service of the imperialists, modern revisionists and the Kuomintang reactionaries”. Liu’s conditions did not improve after he was denounced in Congress, and he died soon afterwards, on November 12, aged 70.

After the launch of Reforms and Opening Up, the Chinese Communist Party officially stated in June 1981 that the famine was mainly due to the mistakes of the Great Leap Forward as well as the Anti-Rightist Campaign, in addition to some natural disasters and the Sino-Soviet split.References – 

1. China’s Strategy for Sino-Indian Boundary Disputes, 1950-1962, Asian Perspective, Johns Hopkins University Press


2. The CIA’s Secret War in Tibet, Kenneth Conboy, James Morrison, University Press of Kansas, 2002

3. China’s India War, Bertil Lintner, Oxford University Press, 2018

4. Memoirs of a Chinese Marshal, Peng Dehuai, Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, 1984

5. Faligot, Roger; Kauffer, Remi (1989). The Chinese Secret Service. Translated by Christine Donougher

CourtesyHamlet in Monsoon

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