For 27 years after the Communist victory in 1949, Chinese leader Mao Zedong combined disastrous economic policies with ruthless suppression of dissent.
The "Great Leap Forward" from 1958-61 resulted in millions of deaths from famine. Mao's policies became increasingly extreme, with the "Cultural Revolution" resulting in mass denunciations of suspected dissidents and repeated purges of party officials.
The resulting climate of mass paranoia left China's Communist Party deeply divided over the course to follow after his death in 1976. While most wanted to ease away from strict central planning, a core faction the "Gang of Four", led by Mao's wife Jiang Qing wanted to continue his policies.
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While the exact events are still shrouded in mystery, they were arrested a month after Mao died, on charges of plotting to seize power for themselves. All four served long jail sentences and played no further role in politics.
Most historians see the arrests as the start of a move towards limited economic reform. Under Deng Xiaoping, China began to allow limited private enterprise and foreign investment.
While political restrictions were re-imposed after the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, economic liberalisation continued, though at a glacial pace.
As a result, says economist Angus Maddison, Chinese real GDP per head rose by nearly 550% in the 25 years following Mao's death, compared with only 90% from 1950 to 1976.
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