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This Is What China Looked Like 70 Years Ago

In 1949, Mao Zedong declared the founding of the People's Republic of China, ushering in 70 years of massive social and political upheaval under communist rule.

Posted on October 1, 2019, at 2:43 p.m. ET

Introducing the BuzzFeed News newsletter JPG — this weekly newsletter will feature the most powerful images from around the internet, as well as behind-the-scenes exclusives from renowned photographers and our hard-hitting photo stories.

For the last 70 years, China has undergone massive social and political upheaval under communist rule. The influence of China’s Communist Party grew steadily throughout the early 20th century with support from the Soviet Union, causing a sporadic but deadly civil war between Communists and Nationalists and resulting in the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

The Chinese Civil War reached a watershed moment following the Second Sino-Japanese War, in which the Communists had grown to overwhelming numbers and negotiations between the two parties had broken down. As the Soviet-backed Red Army maintained a tactical foothold throughout the countrysides of northern China, the US-backed Nationalists focused its forces on defending the cities of Shenyang, Changchun, and Jinzhou. By fall 1948, these cities were captured by the Red Army in a decisive defeat for the Nationalists.

On Oct. 1, 1949, Mao Zedong, the leader of the Communist Party, declared the founding of the People's Republic of China from atop the Tiananmen in the former Nationalist-held capital of Beijing. These pictures show what China looked like during this pivotal moment in its history.


On a tour of Beijing, Mao Zedong greets a group of Communist army commanders, Sept. 18, 1949.

Paul Popper / Getty Images

A street scene with a lane of rickshaws in Shanghai, circa May 1949. Life goes on despite the build-up to war between the Nationalists and the Communists.

Paul Popper / Getty Images

Young boys look at books on a Shanghai street, circa May 1949.

Paul Popper / Getty Images

A cobbler on a Shanghai street, circa 1949.

Jack Birns / The LIFE Picture Collection via

Nationalist troops retreat to the Yangtze river, circa 1949.

Paul Popper / Getty Images

A young girl with her skipping rope on a Shanghai street, circa May 1949.

Jack Birns / Getty Images

Two sailors from the United States on shore leave talk with a pair of cabaret hosts at the Diamond Bar in Shanghai, 1949.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

A refugee from war-torn northern China in her sampan boat on Shanghai's Suzhou Creek, 1949.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

A refugee is provided food at an aid station, Feb. 4, 1949.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

Refugees occupy the Shanghai Bank Building in protest after having been denied their promised allotment of cash relief, Feb. 19, 1949. Here, hungry people with money plead with passersby to buy them food.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

In desperation, people climb atop trains in Nanjing to escape the conflict, Feb. 5, 1949.

Cpg / AP

International citizens are evacuated from Qingdao to Shanghai, Feb. 21, 1949.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

Documents pertaining to the Nationalist government's work are carefully burned in Nanjing to keep them from falling into the hands of the Communist troops, Feb. 5, 1949.

Charles Gorry / AP

A Nationalist tank rolls through the streets of Shanghai, April 26, 1949.

Paul Popper / Getty Images

Prisoners in Shanghai en route to their execution grounds, circa May 1949.

Keystone / Getty Images

A Chinese landowner of the old system is executed near Fukang, 1949.

Paul Popper / Getty Images

Nationalist troops gather in preparation for war against the Communists, circa May 1949.

Jack Birns / Getty Images

Soldiers burn country homes to make way for the battlefield, May 1, 1949.

Keystone / Getty Images

Communist troops take prisoners at bayonet point after heavy fighting in the attack on Shanghai, May 21, 1949.

/ AP

A wounded soldier stands among Nationalist prisoners near Shanghai, May 31, 1949.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

Thousands of people in Shanghai turn out to the streets to celebrate the birth of the People's Republic of China, 1949.

Staff / AFP / Getty Images

Communist soldiers sing songs of victory in Shenzhen, Oct. 25, 1949.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

Shanghai residents celebrate the founding of the People's Republic of China, Nov. 2, 1949.

Uncredited / AP

People crowd the streets of an unidentified city and hold posters of Mao Zedong, 1949.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.