The new land reform campaign intended to end the traditional rural power structure dominated by the landlord-gentry class and stimulate the rapid recovery of agricultural production. It led to Communist Party’s high popularity. Read about its different stages and their impacts.
While China’s campaign to suppress counter-revolutionaries wound to a close in 1952, two other mass movements were initiated in the early 1950s.
The first of these was a Three-anti Campaign, which targeted the growing problems of corruption, waste, and bureaucratism among the party’s basic level cadres, many of whom had become arrogant, officious, and politically lazy in the two years since liberation.
The Three-anti Campaign was relatively mild and seldom involved coercive struggle or detention.
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The second campaign, known as the Five-anti Campaign, was far more intensive and coercive.
It was designed to expose and punish crimes of bribery, tax evasion, embezzlement, theft of state property, and theft of state secrets by non-Communist Party members.
In these two campaigns, the Yan’an model of small-group study and self- criticism was employed to rectify petty offenders. But in more serious cases, particularly in the Five-anti movement, which involved major damage to the state’s core interests, harsh punishments were meted out.
New Land Reform Campaign
In the countryside, the first order of business for the new regime, once the suppression of counter-revolutionaries had been completed, was the nationwide implementation of a new land reform campaign.
The land reform had been first introduced in the Jiangxi Soviet Republic in the early 1930s, when all land and property belonging to landlords and rich peasants had been confiscated and shared out among poor peasants. Later, during the anti-Japanese war, the land reform program was shelved in favor of a milder, less abrasive policy of rent reduction.
But with the resumption of the Guomindang/Communist civil war in 1946, land reform was once again introduced in those rural districts controlled by the Communists.
In 1950, the land reform campaign was extended nationwide. It was a complex, multi-stage movement, having both political and economic components.
Politically, the goal was to put an end, once and for all, to the traditional rural power structure dominated by the landlord-gentry class. Economically, the goal of the campaign was to stimulate the rapid recovery of agricultural production, which had remained stagnant, or worse, since the mid-1930s.
First Stage of Land Reform
In the first stage of land reform, work teams composed of urban party members and cadres were dispatched to rural townships and villages around the country.
The work teams recruited local peasant activists to form the backbone of a new village peasants’ association. Under the watchful eye of the work teams, the peasants associations gathered detailed information about village wealth and property ownership—who owned what, where, and just how they had obtained it.
Once this inventory was completed, each family in the village was assigned a class status (or jieji chengfen).
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Categories of Class Status
There were four main categories: poor peasants, middle peasants, rich peasants, and landlords.
Poor peasants, who comprised around two-thirds of the rural population, were at the bottom of the economic ladder. Their chronic poverty rendered them highly vulnerable to venal landlords and unscrupulous moneylenders, and they were consequently regarded by the Communist Party as the most potentially revolutionary of all rural classes.
Middle peasants accounted for another 20 percent or so of the farm population. They were generally self-sufficient in land and labor, and for this reason they were less likely than poor peasants to harbor deep grievances against local landlords. Because of their ambivalence toward the landlords, the party treated them as a force to be united with but never relied upon.
Rich peasants made up about ten percent of the rural population. They owned more farmland than they could possibly cultivate themselves. Being relatively well-to-do, rich peasants had little or no enthusiasm for land reform. But insofar as they worked at least part of their own land with their own hands, as far as the party was concerned they had a dual character: part laboring people and part exploiters.
Finally, landlords accounted for only roughly five percent of the farm population. Drawing their income wholly from land rents and interest on seasonal loans made to poor peasants, they were, by Communist Party definition, an entirely parasitic exploiting class and were thus consigned to the category of enemies of the people.
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Public Disclosure of Class Status
Once the class status of each family in the village was determined, the results were posted publicly for all to see.
At this stage, a number of intermediate categories were recognized (lower-middle peasants, upper-middle peasants, for example), along with distinctions between law-abiding landlords and evil landlords.
The posting of everyone’s class status was generally a time of high anxiety, as families receiving upper–class classification knew that their future prospects under the Communist Party would most likely be dim indeed.
‘Speak Bitterness’ Meetings
Next came the political mobilization of peasant anger and resentment.
At this stage, ‘speak bitterness’ meetings were organized by the party work teams. At these meetings, older poor peasants would publicly recount the abuse they suffered at the hands of the evil landlords and their agents in the bad old days before ‘liberation’.
When the villagers’ indignation had been thoroughly aroused, the accused landlords and their local agents would then be paraded before the assembled villagers. With hands bound and heads bowed, they were subjected to harsh verbal as well as physical abuse.
At this stage of the movement, many landlords were beaten; and though the party’s directives on land reform did not specifically call for killing landlords, executions were clearly tolerated under Mao’s 1951 dictum that killing was to be permitted where a blood debt was owed, or where failure to execute would arouse popular indignation.
Altogether, an estimated 15 to 20 percent of all landlords were killed during the land reform movement, between 800,000 and a bit over one million in all. Generally, only the male heads of landlord households were executed, while women and children were spared.
Learn more about the Maoist regime in the early 1950s.
Final Stage of Land Reform
The final stage of land reform involved the ritual burning of old land deeds in a public bonfire and the ceremonial redistribution of the confiscated land to the poor and lower-middle peasant families.
For many, this was a deeply moving experience, and one that clearly contributed to the Communist Party’s high popularity among the very poorest two-thirds of the rural population.
By the end of the land reform movement in 1952, rural China’s age-old power structure had been completely overturned. The grip of the landlord-gentry class had been broken forever, and the Communist Party, through its leadership of peasants’ associations, had penetrated virtually every rural village in China.
Common Questions about The Land Reform Movement in China
The Five-anti Campaign was designed to expose and punish crimes of bribery, tax evasion, embezzlement, theft of state property, and theft of state secrets by non-Communist Party members.
In the first stage of land reform, each family in the village was assigned a class status.
There were four main categories of class status: poor peasants, middle peasants, rich peasants, and landlords.