Publication year: 2017

Before President Nixon’s unprecedented visit to China in February 1972, the Chinese people succumbed to the communistic polices set forth by Mao Zedong that resulted in isolation from Western nations.  Two distinct groups in China, the Reds, and the Experts, put forth different philosophies that encouraged communism through revolution, yet greatly differed vis-à-vis the methods to achieve that goal.  On the one hand, the Reds, a group that promoted fast, radical change, believed in revolution simply for the sake of revolution.  On the other hand, the Experts promoted gradual change, and did not necessarily believe in perpetual rebellion.  Nixon’s intent was to increase diplomatic relations between the United States and China, thus imposing political pressure on the USSR by creating the appearance that China was collaborating with the West.  Nixon’s trip resulted in a significant political win for his career, a coup for United States diplomacy, and an opportunity for China to reestablish its position in international politics.  Consequently, the Chinese people were exposed to Americans who no longer viewed them as a threat, and introduced them to Western products that were previously unavailable in China, thereby representing a turning point in China’s history from an antiquated, non-industrialized country, to one that embraced the political-economic benefits of globalization.  This paper will argue that even though communism is not conducive to autonomous citizenship, and despite that both the Red and the Expert philosophies promoted communism, the Experts were victorious because, as compared to the Reds philosophy, their beliefs, particularly their economic polices, were more consistent with the democratic concepts of autonomy, free trade, economic transparency, and globalization.  In fact, if the Reds had prevailed, Nixon might not have made that historic trip because their victory would have set China back, thus rendering China less attractive to Western politicians.

In February 1972, President Richard Nixon’s well-known reputation as an uncompromising opponent of communism was scrutinized by Western nations when he made an unannounced visit to China and met with top Chinese communist leaders.  In the decades preceding that visit, China had experienced significant political, economic, cultural, and social changes that stemmed from the communistic polices set forth by Mao Zedong shortly after he defeated the KMT and its ruler Chiang Kai-shek.[1]  In the late 1940’s, the CCP’s superior leadership and organizational skills attracted peasant support by misrepresenting their jurisprudence, thus defeating the KMT.  After the Chinese economy collapsed in 1948, communist armies systematically took over China, and by the time that the Peoples Republic was formally announced on October 1, 1949, the CCP had already developed a high level of prestige and support.[2]  That new era, which Chairman Mao might have described as a period when, “The Chinese people have stood up,” (Mao, 1949) is symbolically characterized by a new flag and national seal, and land reformation. Once characterized by war, China’s environment in the mid to late 1950’s was characterized by peace, thus duping the peasants into believing that communism was a viable philosophy, and that Mao was a great leader.  Indeed, the five subsequent years proved successful for the farmers and the economy, however, landlords were treated harshly, and nearly one million land owners died under the new land reformation policies.  Moreover, cultural and social problems prevailed, and in 1956, the CCP, headed by Mao, launched the Hundred Flowers Movement to encourage open discussion pertaining to important issues.[3]  The large number of people that complained shocked Mao, and he could not understand their discontent.  The subsequent Anti-Rightist Campaign in 1957, which resulted in the imprisonment or suicide of approximately four hundred thousand Chinese, is a stark example of the harsh polices endured by the people under CCP and Mao rule.[4]  The fact that many landlords died as a result of the CCP’s campaign, combined with the fact that Mao found it necessary to dupe the people into believing that communism was a viable solution to China’s problems jointly sustains the premise that communistic philosophies are not conducive to autonomous citizenship because in an egalitarian society, governments do not deceive the populous simply to satisfy a political agenda.

The above-mentioned facts set the stage for two noteworthy twentieth century events in China, the Great Lead Forward, and the Cultural Revolution, both of which were debated by the Reds and the Experts.  The Great Leap Forward was intended to reorganize China’s agricultural system and consequently increase its GDP (gross domestic product).[5]  The CCP requested that all peasants living in Lushan Plenum donate their land, pots, pans, and other items in exchange for commune living where all of their needs, including meals and shelter, would allegedly be provided.  However, improper agricultural techniques caused the crop output to drop by more than twenty five percent, and instead of a land of plenty the peasants succumbed to one of the largest man-made famines in world history, one that resulted in the death of nearly thirty million Chinese.  In a letter to Mao, former Korean War hero Peng Dehuai, representing the Experts, criticized him for attempting to control economic laws with politics, and urged him to end the Great Leap Forward.  Instead, Mao, representing the Reds, accused Dehuai of being a counter-revolutionary, and rather than concede, he pushed the project harder, only to fail and see the Experts gain credibility.  The fact that Mao accused Dehuai of being counter-revolutionary exemplifies the Reds philosophy, which put forth that a committed revolutionary would be able to accomplish their goals if they always focused on the end result: communism.  In addition, the Reds believed that continuous radical change would accomplish that goal, and those who did not try hard enough were deemed counter-revolutionary.  In contrast, the Experts put forth that although revolution is necessary to fully immerse China in communism, the steps required to reach that goal would take longer because humans have ongoing physical, material, and psychological weaknesses that must be addressed as they emerge.  Comparing those two basic beliefs, the Experts philosophy is more consistent with Western cultures that respect human weaknesses and demonstrate an understating towards limitations.  The fact that the Great Leap Forward enhanced the Experts credibility, combined with the fact their economic philosophies recognized human weaknesses supports the notion that they were victorious because their philosophy, particularly their economic polices, were more consistent with the democratic concepts of autonomy, free trade, economic transparency, and globalization.

After the Great Leap Forward, millions of Chinese peasants benefited from the fiscal polices put forth by the Experts, which called for moderate economic laws, property ownership, and the ability to sell their products.[6]  Those polices, though unpopular with the Reds because they violated the concepts regarding the commune system, indicates similarities to certain democratic principles, such as the right to own property, or become an entrepreneur.  It might be argued that just because the Experts version of communism permitted peasants to own some land and sell some produce, it is not logical to compare it with the entrepreneurial opportunities that characterize the free trade environment of Western democratic cultures.  However, compared to the Reds commune system, which promoted government control over the land and the economy, the Experts economic polices share certain laissez-faire traits (basic economic principle that asserts government nonintervention in the economy) with Western values in the sense that it gave the Chinese peasants the opportunity to make some decisions for themselves and to be self-sufficient.  Communistic goals notwithstanding, another similarity between the Experts and the West was expressed at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution when some professors in China suggested that everyone is equal in front of the law and that everyone deserved the truth.[7]  Any philosophy suggesting that citizens possess the right to equality and truth is more consistent with Western democratic concepts than, for example, the Reds, which hid the devastating loss of life during the Great Leap Forwards from the entire world.  The number of lives lost during the Cultural Revolution were far less than those lost during the Great Leap Forward, however, its affect on Chinese culture might best be observed in Mao’s desperate decision to disburse the Red Army, take over the country, and revert the civilian political power that was instilled in 1954.  That decision was destined to fail because when any government attempts to control its citizens, it violates the concepts of natural law, which asserts that humanity shares certain beliefs that are fundamental to the existence of humankind, and violating those laws by any means is ambiguous to basic human nature.  Therefore, it is logical to suggest that the Reds political and economic philosophies were inconsistent with basic human needs because they violated the concepts set forth by natural law, thus proving that any political philosophy will succumb to failure if it violates universal human rights.  The fact that the Experts economic policies enabled the Chinese peasants to experience the freedoms associated with land ownership; combined with the knowledge that Mao’s desperate attempt to seize control of the people through military power violated natural law, jointly sustain the theory that the Experts were victorious because their philosophy was more consistent with the democratic concepts of autonomy, free-trade, and globalization.

In order to benefit from the economic advantages of globalization, and find acceptance within the realm of the international political arena, a nation must embrace the egalitarian concepts of economic transparency: open economic policymaking, and the dissemination of economic data and financial developments that promote an orderly and efficient financial market that increases the accountability of policymakers and free trade.  However, the discrepancies between the Reds and the Experts divided the CCP, and China found it difficult to fully establish itself internationally until Nixon’s visit.  The Cultural Revolution had ruined China’s heritage, and fear of persecution prevented many Chinese from composing music or poetry, thus representing lost opportunities for future generations to learn about the Revolution through the eyes of those that lived it.[8]  Simply put, and quite ironically, the Cultural Revolution caused the death of a culture.  Moreover, instead of strengthening China, Mao’s version of communism caused its isolation and prompted the U.S. government to exclude it from world politics.  Before Nixon’s visit, China did not have UN membership because it was deemed an evil, totalitarian dictatorship that was interested in world domination.  Fortunately, Nixon noticed China’s potential and sought to reestablish its position in world politics.  However, whether that potential would have been obvious depended on the Reds success in accomplishing their continuous revolution; if they had been successful, China would have likely developed similar characteristics to the former Soviet Union, thus exhibiting signs that were inconsistent with Western cultures, and rendering it an unattractive target for American capitalism or involvement in international politics.  Instead, Westerners viewed the Chinese people favorably after Nixon’s visit partially because the Experts economic policies enabled many Chinese people to experience a taste of capitalism and freedom, thus setting the stage for economic transparency.  In addition, China’s weak economy presented labor opportunities for American corporations that consequently tapped its enormous, assiduous population, thus establishing a synergistic relationship between China and the United States.  However, that relationship might not have existed if the Reds polices had been more effective because capitalism, even at its most meager stage, is diametrically opposed to communism, and because of that inconsistency, it is rational to suggest that the Nixon administration would have found little interest in establishing relationships with the Chinese people.

China’s long history is characterized by events similar to the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, and each century witnessed radical changes in political and economic polices that ultimately affected culture and society.  Nixon’s visit to China demonstrates yet another radical change in China’s history, one that presented it with the opportunity to enter the world of international politics, expose its citizens to Western products, and regain credibility in human rights issues.  Although China has yet to fully embrace economic transparency, it has recognized that many of its political and economic polices were inconsistent with the requirement of globalization, and basic human needs and rights.  Given Chinas history of resiliency, it is possible that it could fully resume its place as an economic superpower in the twenty first century, provided that its polices remain consistent with natural law and human rights.




















Buckley Ebrey, P. (2003). The Cambridge Illustrated History of China. The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 2RU, UK: Cambridge University Press.


[1] Buckley, Ebrey, P. (2003). The Cambridge Illustrated History of China. The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 2RU, UK: Cambridge University Press.

[2] Buckley, Ebrey, P. (2003). The Cambridge Illustrated History of China. The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 2RU, UK: Cambridge University Press.

[3] Buckley, Ebrey, P. (2003). The Cambridge Illustrated History of China. The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 2RU, UK: Cambridge University Press.


[4] Buckley, Ebrey, P. (2003). The Cambridge Illustrated History of China. The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 2RU, UK: Cambridge University Press.

[5] Buckley, Ebrey, P. (2003). The Cambridge Illustrated History of China. The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 2RU, UK: Cambridge University Press.


[6] Buckley, Ebrey, P. (2003). The Cambridge Illustrated History of China. The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 2RU, UK: Cambridge University Press.


[7] From class lecture, December 8, 2005

[8] Buckley, Ebrey, P. (2003). The Cambridge Illustrated History of China. The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 2RU, UK: Cambridge University Press.