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Great leaps backward: poverty under Mao

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China had a long history of premodern growth in just about all categories: empire building and expansion, high yield agriculture, a wide range of inventions and innovations, impressive commercialisation and proto-industrialisation, a very strong foreign trade record and a comfortable living standard. However, all these were ruthlessly challenged by the rise of Western capitalism marked by the opium trade and the First Opium War (1840). If imperial China was noted as a country of political and socio-economic equilibrium, modern China since the Opium War has been a place of swinging changes. Mao’s era from 1949 to 1978 was such a period.

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