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Maoism was firmly based in Marxist theory, and influenced by other communist movements, such as Stalin's Soviet Union. However, its practical implications, which were shaped by the specific economic and social make-up and needs of China in the mid twentieth century, are much less universalist than Marxist orthodoxy. The basic idea of Maoism is that Communism can actually be developed in an agrarian society coming out of feudalism or semi-feudalism, leapfrogging the capitalist stage thought essential by Karl Marx. During the first stage of the Chinese Civil War (1927-1937), the Chinese Communist Party, which had up to this point been a mostly urban-centered organization, had to retreat to the countryside in order to escape destruction at the hands of Chiang Kai-sheks forces. Following the Long March of 1934/35, the CCP and its army had made camp in the remote area of Yan'an in Shaanxi province, which would serve as its redoubt during the second Sino-Japanese war. CCP officials lived in close contact with the local peasants and had to rely on them as their only available source of support, which prompted Mao to devise a new branch of Marxist theory that emphasized this class as the driving force of Communist revolution in China. The CCP proved remarkably adept at mobilizing the rural populace and managed to assemble a large force of soldiers trained in guerilla tactics, an asset that would turn out to be critical during the second and final stage of the Civil War (1946-49).
Apart from its reliance on the peasantry, the most important part of "Mao Zedong Thought" (as it is officially known) is the idea that, even after the creation of the socialist state, there will always be "capitalist restorationist elements" that must be dealt with. This is expressed in the idea of "contradictions," in which every stage of development has internal contradictions that must be overcome for the next stage to come around. Hence, Maoism emphasized the need for constant revolution and regular purges. This thought can be seen as the intellectual precursor of the Great Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s, which attempted to abolish the "feudalist" structures inherent in traditional Chinese culture and quickly turned into a chaotic free-for-all that brought the country to the brink of another civil war.
Internationally, Maoism would prompt the eventual break-up between the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union, which had supported the Communists during the Civil War and formed an alliance with the new regime. Mao ultimately denounced the USSR as just another imperialist power and sought to promote his own brand of Communist revolution throughout the Third World. The Sino-Soviet split left China badly isolated, hostile towards both superpowers, and without a patron to aid its development. In a breakneck attempt at self-strengthening, Mao pursued a massive industrial buildup along Stalinist lines, called the "Great Leap Forward". This project would ultimately trigger an unprecedented famine that claimed about 45 million victims.
After Mao's death in 1976, the Chinese government, while officially maintaining "Mao Zedong Thought" as one of the guiding principles of the Chinese state, has quietly buried Maoism as far as it possibly can. This does not mean it is dead, however. The ruling party in Nepal is Maoist, and there are Maoist rebels in the Philippines and India. As late as 2008 a small outfit called the "Maoist International Movement" put out a really obnoxious newspaper that it would leave around universities.