How far was China established as a superpower by the time of Mao’s death?
By the time of Mao’s death China was a significant player on the world stage. In 1967 the Chinese had tested their first Hydrogen Bomb, making them a Nuclear Power. They had a huge military presence that was respected and feared. The Chinese were also considered by other major superpowers when analysing their own influence in Asia. China was a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and was treated as an important nation in terms of diplomacy by the United States and the Soviet Union.
Economically China had been transformed under Mao’s leadership. It had come at a cost. However the aim was to make a massive change to the way that the economy worked. China, according to official sources, was virtually self sufficient by the time that Mao passed away. It did not have to rely on imports of goods from other countries. The economy functioned as intended. This did mean that there was little emphasis on the production of ‘comfort’ goods, though that had not been the intention. Most countries, including the world superpowers, had huge debts at the time. China did not. Chinese Industry was however technologically behind it’s western counterparts. To a Western eye the economy was quite weak.
Agriculture had also seen the policy of Land Reform take effect. A large country such as China could be crippled if there was a crop failure. It would be reliant upon imported food. China though did not need to make use of imports. Indeed it rejected offers of foreign aid after natural disasters. Partly this was for political reasons, partly as it felt it could manage without any assistance.
Militarily the Chinese had proven themselves on several occasions. If the Chinese did not have military prowess, their position would have been seriously undermined. The Chinese actions, by both the Communists and Nationalists, in the Second World War had shown that they could withstand attacks from technologically advanced forces. In 1950 they were involved in the Korean War and held back assaults backed by American forces. In 1964 they added the Atomic Bomb to their arsenal. They engaged, albeit briefly, with the Soviet Union in border disputes. The leading powers were well aware of the military strength of China, and its limitations.
The limitations were that the armed forces, whilst large, were not particularly well trained. The Maoist method was to have all soldiers as equals. This removed a typical command structure. It led to a lack of specialism and training deficiencies.
Globally China did not particularly seek to exert it’s authority. It did not have particularly good relations with other Communist States, at one time only recognising Albania as being a true Socialist nation. Her relations with the USA did improve in the 1970’s and the thawing of attitudes led to involvement in world affairs via the United Nations. Mao’s vision of a socialist state had been adopted in some parts of the world, Africa and Asian peasant based societies adopting it.
In 1976, China was largely isolated from the outside world. It was recognised as a powerful nation though.
Standford University – academic article tracing China’s emergence as a SuperPower.
International Relations – whilst looking mainly at China’s current economic might this article does include a lot of information about China’s relative might throughout the past hundred or so years.
International Viewpoint – Mao in Question. Looks at the way that China developed at this time.
Retiredprof.com – Peasant Society to Industrial Superpower.