A Farmer who Witnessed the Communist Take Over

四月 27, 2010 By: 安東尼 Category: 生活隨想, 社會透視


Many people thought that peasants were the beneficiaries of the communist take over, because they represented us as the vanguard party of proletariat, especially for us ‘poor peasants’. But is it actually the case? Did we really benefit from it? I am a poor peasant from the Henan province, and I want to share my experience here about my life in 50s as my capacity of being a poor peasant, and hope to make people know that we peasants actually were not quite better off under communist rule comparing with that of KMT regime.

We actually benefited from the recovery of economy in the early 50s, and I witnessed the remarkable overall economic improvement before 1957, our life gradually turned increasingly worse off towards the end of this decade. Our quality of life, which is judged in the aspect of the macroscopic social stability, personal freedom, consumption and working conditions were under significant change throughout the transformation to socialism.

Social stability was influenced to a large extent by class struggle resulted from land reform in the early 50s, in this period society was highly differentiated by the internal class struggle, though we were distributed lands for our own farming, but lands were soon returned to the state in the final stage of collectivization. Some turbulence of rejection were resulted from the rapid agricultural collectivization during the First Five Year Plan between 1953-1957, during which working conditions change over time; After 1953, our consumption was influenced by the compulsory procurement system. Since then, our life became increasingly hard since we were forced to bear additional burden by the ‘price scissor gap’ to support rapid industrialization. Under strict control of Household Registration (Hukou) System after 1956, our personal freedom ranging from migration, employment and thought were almost totally deprived under the total control of collectives.

The first part of this paper gives an in-depth description of relationship between land reform and turbulent social instability caused by class struggle by the former, it also explains how the communists could effectively gained our support against KMT regime in the very beginning towards the PRC establishment. The second part attempts to illustrate working conditions and consumption under the influence of transformation to socialism and the implementation of the compulsory procurement system; the third part illustrates our personal freedom under the influence of the Hukou system after 1956. The fourth part gives a snapshot late 50s which was ended up with Great Leap Forward, the overall conditions of our life is briefly discribed. Finally the question ‘Is communist take over good for us?’ is answered by concluding the gains and losses during 50s in the final part.

Part 1 – The Social Stability under Land reform (1946 – 1953)

After the end of the war with Japanese, we preyed for the peace and wanted our livelihood normalized. Unfortunately, civil war followed. At first, we didn’t like the communists very much because they made our country chaotic again with war, especially we had being fed up with the endless warfare after the invasion of Japanese. However, after the autumn of 1946 when the communists guerrilla had deployed to our village, my view changed, everyone’s view changed. I was ‘enlightened’ by the communists members that our humble fate actually was caused by the incompetent nationalist government, who represented the evil class of landlords and the rich. Cheng Kai Shek was an incompetent and evil leader, under its ‘rule’ the KMT government was a hopeless and corrupted regime. They didn’t protect us well from foreign invasion, I lost my village friends and my brothers from the war. Under the KMT era, corruption was everywhere, we severely suffered from terrible starvation. Our wealth and food were robbed by the landlords, who actually were the corruptive partners of KMT regime – ‘small Cheng Kai Shek’. We should deserve more than we had, we farm the land, fed the landlord and the rich, but what we gained at the end? They did nothing but simply exploited us and made us poor from generation to generation. Only within a week after their arrival, our hatred against the landlord and the government was stirred up to the climax.

The time for peasants came!

One day we were told by communists that we could have our land for own farming. It was too good for me to believe, we were fancy at it! Land reform was triggered in our village! The KMT regime, landlords and the rich were all our enemies, class struggle must began with the glorious and victory land reform. Land reform was conducted by means of violent means of land redistribution from the landlords and rich peasants. Even peaceful means were not accepted, the landlord in our village, The Tsang family, who would voluntarily shared his land with us, and begged for mercy from humiliation. At the very beginning we thought that it was acceptable. After all, he confessed his class mistakes. To my surprise, the communists leaders insisted on revenge – publicly insulting by holding the struggle session and finally kill the landlord family, even no exception for the innocent children. The class struggle not only crashed the landlord class, but also crashed our traditional guiding principles for our behavior indeed. My grandfather always told me secretly he was surprised the effect of land reform went so far. Overshadowed by the bloodshed, our traditional moral value and virtue turned upside-down at all. The Confucian beliefs were greatly challenged to collapse nationwide, the traditional social hierarchical relationship was collapsed, we no longer stressed on social harmony at the time of class struggle.

At that time, though the society was highly unstable due to the extreme antagonistic polarization between the landlords class and we poor peasant class, but actually never since before we were concerned so much, the communists were our representative, we were moved by sentiment to stand side by side with communists and fight against the landlords and government. I thought that only by crashing the evil landlord class that we could have our bright future, we could say goodbye to starvation, and we were honored to bear the historical responsibility to future for our glorious future. And the same idea was broadly shared among us.

As a result, national turmoil mounted unprecedentedly, our society became highly differentiated by various class labels, namely ‘landlords’, ‘rich peasants’, ‘middle peasants’ and ‘poor peasants’. Among the five social labels, ‘landlords’ and ‘poor peasants’ were the two polars of the class continuum. The poor, who were also called ‘the proletariat’, embodies social morality – hardworking and productive, but unfortunate; while in contrast, landlords embodies the social immorality, they were greed, evil and lazy, even they were devoted to charity simply means an act of hypocrisy.

The assigned labels significantly differentiated our society by dispersing the sense of fear. People at that time were very concerned about their family background. Of course, the landlords and rich peasants were vulnerable to be attacked. Sometimes, the situation of rich peasants were quite embarrassed, they were once the successful role model among us. They actually farmed the lands themselves but simply hire the land to others, some of them actually were not that rich, simply having small plot of land. They were self-contained and not rely on others, but most of them were executed in our village, sometimes I think that was unequal to them. Since my family belong to the poor peasant class, we certainly always proud to it. But actually, there should not be anything deserve proud to us. My father was once an active criminal, he was lazy and stole things from others occasionally, and fighting with others who engage disputes with him. After the label assigned, my father suddenly had a bright future, he became the activist and joined the communist work team and being assigned with important responsibilities of class struggle.

Even after 1952 when 90% of the land had reformed nationwide, the stigmas of the class labels profoundly peoples lives. The mode of movement of land reform still existed for a long time. Especially the movement could act as the tool for politically attack against those artificially labeled ‘class enemies’, and middle peasants were vulnerable at such attack if mobilization would be needed throughout collectivization reform in the subsequent years. From 1948 to 1949, the communists used a quota for determining the ‘class enemies’ , a certain percentage of ‘wealthy people’ would be filtered out as landlords to be shot to death in every village so that every village must have ‘blood letting’. The minister for public security Luo Ruiqing disclosed that 4 millions were executed in this period.

Part 2 – Working Conditions and Consumption in Transition to Socialism, 1952-1957

In this period there were two important issues which directly affected our consumption and working conditions – the three phrases of agricultural collectivization and the implementation of compulsory procurement system.

Unlike rich peasants and middle peasants who were vulnerable to political attack, my being labeled as ‘poor peasants’ let my working conditions generally stable and satisfactory throughout the early 50s. Actually, my working conditions differed among different stages of agricultural development in this period, there were three stages of collectivization could be identified.

After the nationwide land reform completed after 1952, mutual aid system was adopted in our village. Under this system, we were encouraged to cooperate in some phases of production through formation of small “mutual aid teams” of six or seven households each. It was a simple system of cooperative farming, we shared labor and some capital from time to time, while individual households remain basic unit of ownership and production. This was the happiest moment we enjoyed, we could have our own lands to farm, and employment starting to be secured. Due to the division of labor, intensified share of tools and livestock, our farming productivity increased significantly. It could also effectively curtail the business activities of rich peasants, who hire labors to farm and trading lands. Since we relied on the collective labor to solve the difficulties of production, we could be protected from the exploitation of the rich. Most importantly we no longer needed to suffer from starvation. At that time we actually were very grateful to Mao’s help.

In 1954, agricultural producers’ cooperatives were set up in our village, our teams organized rapidly into it. Under the new system, our tools, draft animals, and land had been shared on a permanent basis of collaboration under the united running by the collective, and we members of it contribute labor. The income of the collective was distributed on the basis of our different individual laboring and capital sharing after paying for taxes and welfare. It was acceptable to us since income distribution still accommodate our traditional agricultural value of private ownership, especially taking the different economic situation of rich peasants, middle peasants and us. I was very confident to our prospect and believed that better time will follow, but I could not realize that this period was actually our heyday.

In 1955, ‘Advanced producers’ cooperatives’, which was the precursor of Peoples Commune in Great Leap Forward, were formally established gradually nationwide, after that our earned income no longer based on our shares of land owned. Instead, I could only earn my income simply by labor contribution. It was based on the consideration to stimulate our working incentive by simply counting our work points. Even worse, my land was ‘confiscated’ to the cooperative.

In between the early collectivization, under the state development strategy of ‘cost efficient’ rapid industrialization, compulsory procurement system was adopted in 1953. After that party exercised absolute control over the harvest of grains, vegetable oil and cotton. It was adopted considering the importance of controlling the market price of grains so that problem of inflation and effective national grains supply could be resolved. In the November of 1953, the State Council announced the concrete principles for the implementation of the system that, besides peasants were obliged to levy the agricultural tax, any household who had remaining grains having produced had to sell a certain amount of grains to state. In addition, we were not allowed to sell grains to any others and reserve grains on our own. As a result, market economy was completely crackdown. However, our grains must be bought by the state at a lower price to support the rapid industrialization, simultaneously we were forced to pay relatively higher price for consumer goods. The burden added on us by the price scissor gap (profit the state took away from us) was actually heavy. At that time, I feel cheated, this amounted to exploitation again! Eventually, we lost land from the final stage of collectivization and having our wealth robbed by the state policy.

Regime changed, but exploitation remained.

Since quota for production and the state procurement was set from the above after the system was implemented, we had increasingly less power to control amount of grains retained for ourselves. Even worse, since government often bought too many grains from us, there were very little left for our survival. At the same time the planned quotas for production and procurement were very rigid, inhumanely rigid! The target of production and procurement often set unrealistically high. Even we had not met the target of production, the preset quota for procurement would not adjust according to the unanticipated conditions. Eventually there could be very few grains for us. For example, in the harvest season of 1954, our home was suffered from floods, it significantly affected our planning of grains production, but the target of procurement did not make any adjustment, we were forced to give out almost all our grains. The Report of the South China by the party central pointed out that the practice of orderliness by party officials emerged, peasants who were not willing to give out grains were accused of spontaneously engaging in capitalism. About 8 peasants who were not willing to sell grains were ligatured in the village of Xinhuixian. In our village I was one of the peasants being seriously abused due to my insistence of reserving some grains for my family. But there were no alternative to me but reserving grains on our own, I never mean selfishness, certainly we were paid for grains. But the policy of state grains selling did not cover the agricultural area, even we had money was useless. In our province, 111 peoples committed suicide because of the problem of grain procurement in the year. Majority of us reflected that‘communists were even more terrible than nationalist’

One phenomenon was noteworthy is the culture of ‘guanxi’ established in our village, since formal exchanges of everything from goods and services to information were expected to go through official channels under the supervision of bureaucrats, while administrative channels are widely acknowledged to be inadequate and subject to inordinate delays. In response, we used and developed informal mechanisms of exchange and coordination. Therefore informal relations were established – guanxi. Such ties depended on the mutually beneficial exchange of favors, services and introduction. Occasionally, we used to create ties by means of meals and presentation of gifts. In the sense, such personal connections are vulnerable to corruption and favoritism at that time.

Part 3 – Household Registration (Hukou) System and our freedom

In 1956, after the Household registration system implemented, our freedom of migration which was enshrined in the first PRC’s constitution was voided. In mid-1950s, state control of population movement was introduced and restrictions of city entry, some of my friends were repatriated. We could no longer enter urban cities for settlement or find jobs.

Under the system, Chinese society was abruptly divided into rural society and the urban cities. Under the economic policy of ‘walking on two legs’, stabilization and division of labor in both societies was strictly emphasized, peoples were almost impossible to move around the state. In a marketless society, since the economy was generally good, full employment was guaranteed, the segregation policy was not greatly criticized. But we could not change our identities and workplace at our will, we were bound to sacrifice for the country.

We were nothing, but the collective and the state was everything!

Despite of dedicated effort to the state, we had no claim for social welfare such as grains ration, education and medical services. Even I could evade from my village to city, without grain coupon and the referral letter stamped by the officials of the collective, I could not survive on my own. In the 1955 Directive Concerning Establishment of a Permanent System of Household Registration, change of residence and migration needed official permission, only by means of university enrollment, securing urban employment and PLA enrollment could be approved of hukou change. But the former two were made impossible, university enrollment was not realistic for us since education investment by government had been low in rural areas. For employment in the city was even more ridiculous, without official permission it was impossible, unless state policy changed. In effect, we could hardly had any opportunity to fight for social upward mobility. Consequently we peasants in China were the second class people.

We had no freedom at all, our livelihood was guaranteed by collectives. Our work, private property and economic freedom were subject to the collective total control. The old society’s set of formal associations – everything from lineages (clans) to irrigation cooperatives were closed down. While collectives led by party members were put in place. The Hukou system had been much more restrictive than its precursor in nationalist era – bao-jia system. In the nationalist era, bao¬-jia system is used to simply maintain the social stability by law enforcement and population census. Our village was generally a self-contained world, we peasants used to remained aloof from distant and higher-ranking centres of authority. The new system virtually had been applied to every household, family no longer deemed effective control mechanism. Even our thoughts were attempted to be controlled by ideological education, family members were encouraged to censor each other to redress the class mistakes. There were no autonomous civil societies among us at all.

Part 4 – Lives under Great Leap Forward

After 1958 when the First Five Year Plan had had a successful economic reward, Mao’s government believed that agricultural collectivization could undergo even more rapid development. Great Leap Forward (1958-1960) was officially approved since then. Our collectives were organized very rapidly into people’s communes, the agriculture experienced the higher degree of collectivization and target on unrealistic high production goals. In contrast there were unrealistically few grains left for us. Soon after the implementation after 2 years, the Great Leap Forward attempted in vain due to the intense pressure for results.

Since we only stressed on putting politics in command, substantial effort was expanded but large scale by heroic efforts but poorly planned capital construction projects such as irrigation works. Many of us even contributed our tools of farming to make steel. At the same time extravagant claims were resulted from the political rightness, otherwise, we would be labeled conservative, politically wrong, or even counter-revolutionaries like the case of Peng Dehuai.

Consequently, we were exhausted from the unremitting pressure to produce. Even not enough grains survive on our own, we were robbed by the collectives to pay for the inflation of production statistics. Eventually, together with the unfavorable weather in 1959-61, agricultural production declined sharply, large scale of famine experienced. Throughout the three years of famine, without grains, I needed to survive by means of disgusting cannibalism – eating people

Part 5 – Conclusion: Is communists take over good for us?

Frankly, communists gave us hope, especially after the early three good years after it’s took over. We peasants at most gained eight years economic recovery and growth between 1949 and 1957 on the whole. Due to the agricultural technologies were modernized under industrialization, grains productivity grew steadily, and we tasted about five year’s private ownership of lands and property.

However, counting at the end, I believe losses were greater. First, following land reform, our traditional rituals destroyed, kinship, virtue and religions were destroyed significantly, while families’ relationship and core value of hard working collapsed. Secondly, our personal freedom lost, we could not have economic freedom of private ownership, freedom of migration, opportunity of social upward mobility and freedom of speech. Even lands and private property we gained in the early 50s were collectivized again to the state. Third, our wealth was exploited by the compulsory procurement system. Fourth, during the class struggle, many innocent peoples were killed, millions of people died from it. Finally, at the end of the Great Leap Forward, another millions of people died from starvation, most of my friends and even some relatives died. Economic loss could be recovered by growth, but the destroy of traditional virtues, value, religion and cultural heritage, ten of millions of causalities from class struggle and Great Leap Forward were irreversible. The above losses were indeed unique to the totalitarian feature of the communist regime. Without a doubt, the communists led by Mao should bear the historical responsibilities!

I always believe that may be it would be better if the communist did not have taken over, there was no certainty that they could not recover the economy after the war ended, at least I could be confident that there would never be terrible policy like compulsory procurement system, hukou system and irrational and cruel class struggle. And we are now still suffering from the hukou system, our offspring still can never have a chance for education and various welfare we deserve. In nationalist era, we were simply exploited by landlord, but we were even more exploited and had freedom and natural rights deprived in the state under Mao’s leadership. Though Mao had given us a good time after 1949, but it only lasted for short term – at most eight years.


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