Mao Zedong (MOW dzuh•DUNG), gained support from Chinese farmers. Mao believed in communism, a system of unlimited government that controls all economic goods and services.
After years of civil war, the Communists won power in 1949. They set up the People’s Republic of China on the Chinese mainland. The Nationalists fled to the island of Taiwan. There, they set up a government called the Republic of China.
In the late 1950s, Mao Zedong introduced the Great Leap Forward. This program’s goal was to increase China’s industrial output. Many peasants left the fields and began working in factories. Cities grew rapidly. The program failed, however. Poor planning, natural disasters, and a drop in food production led to widespread famine.
The Republic of China (Taiwan), on the other hand, pursued a goal of “one China”— two parts of one nation moving toward reunification. The Nationalist government on Taiwan wanted the mainland Communist government to negotiate with it as an equal, but Communist leaders refused.
Similar to Communist rulers, the Nationalist government at first placed limits on citizens' rights, such as freedom of speech. By 1970, however, the leaders of the Republic of China (Taiwan) had instituted democratic reform and developed an economy based more on a free enterprise system. This contrast brought prosperity, which transformed the island into an economic powerhouse.
After Mao's death in 1976, China's communist leaders relaxed economic controls. People could now own small businesses and sell products and services for profits. Standards of living rose, and China became a rising global power. Many Chinese, however, wanted American-style democracy with free elections and freedoms of speech, religion, and the press. Asserting that the Communist Party would remain in charge, China's leaders crushed street protests that demanded political change.