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CHINA from MAO to DENG (1 of 11)

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China from Mao to Deng

Socialism and Collective Agriculture to 1957 | A Great Leap | Dispute with the Soviet Union | Communes and Starvation, 1958-61 | Retrenchment and Mao versus "Capitalist Roaders" | The Cultural Revolution | The Last of Mao Zedong | Reforms under Deng Xiaoping | Dissatisfactions | Tiananmen Square Protests, 1989 | Ten Years after Tiananmen

Socialism and Collective Agriculture to 1957

The Communists took power in China on October 1, 1949. They ended the hyperinflation that Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi) had created, and they launched a land reform program with the slogan "Land to the Tiller!" About thirty percent of the tillable land was in the hands of a small minority of landlords, and the Communist Party aimed at reducing the individual landlord's share of land to equal that of the common peasants – which would destroy the old gentry-landlords as a class of people and, they hoped, reduce the possibility of counter revolution.

The Communist Party leadership wanted this transition to be as little disruptive as possible and wanted to avoid the excesses they had experienced in land reform in areas they controlled before the revolution. The Party had widespread support among the peasantry (which was eighty percent of China's population) and the common peasant supported ridding themselves of the gentry-landlords. But rather than a smooth transition, the land reform program became tumultuous and bloody. Many hotheaded peasants sought retribution from the landlords, and over-zealous Communist cadres joined in the passion and committed excesses. Estimates are that more than a million died. And, in early 1950, those believed to have been overly zealous in leading local land reform were removed from the Party.

The size of farms was not yet completely equal, with farming still largely a family enterprise. Each family owned the land they worked, and now no farming family was burdened by mortgages, high interest rates and rents. But farmers were selling their crops to the government at fixed low prices, and the government was taxing the farmers about thirty percent of their income. As in the Soviet Union in the 1920s, China's Communist regime wished to use wealth created by farming to advance industrialization.

The Communist Party wanted order for China and a restoration of the economy. China had been disrupted by more than ten years of war, first against the Japanese and then civil war, and in the years 1950-53 China was involved in the Korean war. But from 1950 to 1952 farm production in China averaged a growth of fifteen percent per year – an advance helped by new irrigation and flood projects.

China population in the countryside was four-times larger than was the Soviet Union's in the late 1920s, but China's agricultural production was only about twenty percent what the Soviet Union's had been at this time – less agricultural wealth that could be transformed into investments in industry. But with this wealth, the Communists, in 1953, launched their first five-year plan for industry.

In 1953 and 1954, nature intervened and China had poor harvests. People migrated to the cities to escape hunger. The Korean War had just ended, and many young men were being demobilized. Unemployment was rising in China's cities. Moreover, the chairman of China's Communist Party, Mao Zedong, and some other Party members were disturbed by the sight of some family farmers being more successful than other farmers and by the sight of some of these more successful farmers lending money to the less fortunate. And the same debate arose among the Communists in China that had arisen among the Communists in the Soviet Union in the twenties: how far should they go in accommodating free enterprise as opposed to building socialism.

The Communist Party decided to launch a new program of collectivizing farming. China's peasantry saw Chairman Mao and the Communist Party as heroic much more than Russia's peasantry had seen Stalin and the Bolsheviks as heroes, and through 1956 the peasantry cooperated with the Party. There was none of the resistance and warfare that had accompanied the collectivization of agriculture in the Soviet Union.

By the end of the summer of 1956 nearly ninety percent of China's farmers had joined a collective farm. The average collective consisted of around 170 families. The family unit remained, each family eating and living together under the same roof. And each family was allowed their own small plot of land and to sell the produce from these private plots as they pleased. Free enterprise remained, but it had been reduced, and socialism had been advanced.

Meanwhile, the birth rate among people in the countryside remained high, and people were still migrating from the countryside into the cities, where unemployment was growing. Peasant income remained low, which provided little in revenues for the government to invest in industrialization, and little with which to repay debts for loans from the Soviet Union. Manufacturing in 1956 and 1957 in China grew at an annual rate of four percent, and Party strategists wished for more spectacular gains. They estimated that because of China's poverty several years might pass before a more impressive rate in gains could be achieved. Seeing the growth in agricultural production as a part of the problem, the government sought to increase peasant incentives to grow by reducing taxes to twenty-five percent of their income.

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