The Rise of the New Middle Classes in China: A Tumultuous Class History
Mao had pledged to build a public school and a clinic in each village district where each warlord's house stood. He kept his promise. A fairly extensive grade school system was established throughout the countryside and in the cities. Mao and the Communist Party also built a system of secondary schools and universities modeled after the Russian system. As with the Russian schools, the Chinese schools were academically excellent but ideologically loaded with Marxist- Leninist-Maoist propaganda.
No spirit of free inquiry characterized these schools and colleges. Those intellectuals who had begun their learning before the communist takeover were repressed and "reeducated" where they deviated from "socialist thinking." However, again as with the Russian schools, the scientific and technical curriculum was very good. By the late 1950s a steady stream of university-educated individuals began to emerge in China. As in Russia, the early university graduates were selectively absorbed into the Communist Party as political and economic functionaries. Therefore, the new middle class, as a class, did not yet exist as an independent entity, and it exerted little impact upon the society at large.
Mao and other members of the Communist Party, especially Chou En-lai, placed great emphasis upon the development and expansion of a class of university-educated Chinese who could lead the nation toward modernity. Chou, in a speech to the party's central committee, expressed both hopes and fears of the party about this new set of strata they were actively creating. "The overwhelming majority of intellectuals," he announced, "have become government workers in the cause of socialism and are already part of the working class."1
Notice this mental sleight of hand: by absorbing the new middle class into the party, this new class would become part of the vanguard of the working class. This was Chou's hope; and his only worry at the time (the mid-1950s)