On 1 October 1949 Mao declared the People's Republic of China. Mao had led a peasant movement to victory but the aim was to develop China as an industrial power.
As such there was much talk of the Great Leap Forward (1958-62) and Five Year Plans modeled on Stalin's Soviet Union.
Targets weren't met under the Plans and worse still between 1959 and 1963 there was a "great famine." Mao blamed the food shortages on poor local management and the hoarding of grain by "rich exploiting peasants." In actual fact forced collectivisation and false science (Mao quite disastrously put faith in Lysenko, a Soviet agronomist, who spoke of "socialist crops" with "bountiful yields") were actually to blame.
Mao withdrew from the limelight. But when he did return in 1966 he did so with a vengeance unleashing the Great Purge -otherwise known as the Cultural Revolution- as a way of "obliging the Party to acknowledge its errors" and "eliminate all possible rivals to his authority" (Lynch 2006).
In April 1966 there had been an official announcement that the Communist Party was infected with "revisionism." Then at a rally in August 1966 in Tianamen Square "old thoughts, habits, cultures and customs" were denounced. Young people rushed to become Red Guards and set about destroying the four "olds."
The first target was the education system. Teachers and lecturers were dragged out and denounced as "reactionaries." Intellectuals were castigated as "class enemies." All of them ran the risk of being subjected to special interrogation --so-called "struggle sessions."
At the head of this purification process -and responsible in particular for the creation of a "proletarian culture"- was Mao's wife Jiang Qing. Only contemporary, socially realistic themes were now acceptable. Art and literature had to be directly relevant to the lives of workers.
The Cultural Revolution didn't fully end until Mao's death in 1976 though by the early 70s it had begun to lose its momentum. The fire had been "quelled." (Le Bas 2005).