AGRICULTURE IN CHINA UNDER MAO
Farmer in a 1935 pre-Mao film As is true with all land, farm land is owned by state in China. In the Mao-era most farming was done at collective farms and state farms. Food produced by farms was sold to the state at fixed prices that were generally lower than the prices of the same food sold on the open market. As a result the farms were dependent on government subsidies to remain afloat. Agricultural productivity was low. Farmers lacked incentives to be productive; infrastructure and transportation problems prevented food from getting from the fields to people's homes before it spoiled; poor land management exhausted soils and water supplies. There were also weather problems. The low productivity resulted in shortages and even famines. To increase productivity, chemical fertilizer plants were built, hybrid-seed programs were developed, insecticides were used, rivers were irrigated. Many of these programs had negative effects on the environment.
According to the Library of Congress: Before the early 1980s, most of the agricultural sector was organized according to the three-tier commune system. There were over 50,000 people's communes, most containing around 30,000 members. Each commune was made up of about sixteen production brigades, and each production brigade was composed of around seven production teams. The production teams were the basic agricultural collective units. They corresponded to small villages and typically included about 30 households and 100 to 250 members. The communes, brigades, and teams owned all major rural productive assets and provided nearly all administrative, social, and commercial services in the countryside. The largest part of farm family incomes consisted of shares of net team income, distributed to members according to the amount of work each had contributed to the collective effort. Farm families also worked small private plots and were free to sell or consume their products. [Source: Library of Congress]
“Four percent of the nation's farmland was cultivated by state farms, which employed 4.9 million people in 1985. State farms were owned and operated by the government much in the same way as an industrial enterprise. Management was the responsibility of a director, and workers were paid set wages, although some elements of the responsibility system were introduced in the mid-1980s. State farms were scattered throughout China, but the largest numbers were located in frontier or remote areas, including Xinjiang-Uygur Autonomous Region in the northwest, Inner Mongolia, Autonomous Region, the three northeastern provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning and the southeastern provinces of Guangdong, Fujian, and Jiangxi. [Ibid]
"Mao Zedong's legacy to Chinese agriculture is mixed," scholar Richard Critchfield writes, "He gave agriculture and the peasant top priority in investment, something India has failed to do. Yet the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, along with forced collectivization, set back scientific research for years and in 1959-61 an estimated 30 million Chinese died of famine. [Source: "The Villagers" by Richard Critchfield, Anchor Books]
Websites and Resources
Land reform poster Good Websites and Sources on Communes: Communes in Communist China (PDF file) indiana.edu Links in this Website: COMMUNISTS TAKE OVER CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; EARLY COMMUNIST RULE UNDER MAO Factsanddetails.com/China ; GREAT LEAP FORWARD Factsanddetails.com/China
On Agriculture: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Wconomy Watch.com economywatch.com ; Products List and Links made-in-china.com ; China’s Ministry of Agriculture Data english.agri.gov.cn ; End of Agriculture in China, NPR Report npr.org ; Library of Congress Report from the 1980s lcweb2.loc.gov ; Can China Feed Itself? iiasa.ac.at/collections ; Essay on Agriculture and WTO Membership mtholyoke.edu ; Changing Agriculture and Farmers sociology.cass.cn
Links in this Website: AGRICULTURE IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; AGRICULTURE IN CHINA UNDER MAO AND DENG XIAOPING Factsanddetails.com/China ; PROBLEMS FACED BY FARMERS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; LAND SEIZURES AND FARMERS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; CROPS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; RICE AGRICULTURE IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; TEA AGRICULTURE IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; LIVESTOCK IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; SILK IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; POOR PEOPLE IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; RURAL LIFE IN CHINA 14 ; VILLAGES IN CHINAFactsanddetails.com/China
Land Reform in China Under Mao
Commune in the 1950s The Communist Party’s greatest legacy arguably has been taking land from wealthy landlords and rich farmers and redistributing it in rural areas among the poorest peasants under the principal of “land of the tiller.” During the war to take power, the Communists promised land to the poor. When the Communists came to power they began seizing land from landowners and distributing it among the poor. Each family got no more than 1.3 acres. Land owners that resisted giving up their land, even as little as two thirds of an acre, were often executed.
After 1949, farmers classified as "poor peasants" by the Communists were given ownership to land taken away from local landlords and rich farmers. Estates and large farms were divided and peasants got small parcels of land. One farmer told the New York Times, "Of course we were extremely happy—everyone was happy we got land!"
The seizure of land was not always easy. In some cases “certain necessary steps” had to be taken and this resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of people. In many cases villagers were executed or beaten to death by fellow villagers to get their land. See Violence in the Early Years of the People's Republic Below.
The peasants didn’t hold on to their land for long. By the late 1950s, private land ownership was eliminated and peasants were given usage rights to the land but not ownership. The land from then on was owned by the state. Peasants were organized into teams and then collectives and became property-less members of “people’s communes.”
Similar scenarios were played in the cities. Rich families who stayed in Shanghai after Communist Revolution were told they had nothing to worry about, but in the end their land and property was expropriated. The Communists also confiscated their art. One Hong Kong art dealer told the New York Times. "The Shanghai museum's best pieces are all from those private collections."
Top down economic plans after independence bore fruit. The national income rose at rate of 8.9 percent a year between 1953 and 1957 bu created problems down the road. Giving peasants usages rights rather than ownership paved the way for the seizures of land by local officials and businesses that is taking place today.
Collectivism in China
penetrate the countryside stamp In the early 1950s the Communists helped form mutual aid teams, the precursors to cooperatives. In 1955, Mao decreed that all farmers should "voluntarily" organize into large cooperatives. The cooperatives were overseen by party cadres and large portions of the output was turned over to the state.
In the early 1950s, in one of the largest peacetime mobilizations in history, prisoners of war, decommissioned Red Army soldiers and “reform through labor” convicts were sent to the Gobi Desert and western China as members of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, to build roads, canals, bridges and dams and transform a wasteland into a rich agricultural area of cotton, maize and rice, complete with its own cities. In some cases the condition were so sever that participants made furniture from sod bricks and used their own hair keep arm in the frigid winters.
Large centrally planned People’s Communes were established in late 1950s. The Communists had hoped that collectivism would help the huge Chinese population feed itself, but collectivism did not increase agricultural production.
Within a short time it was clear this system wasn’t workable. Distribution was always a problem. Even during the Cultural Revolution when every able-bodied person in the country was put to the task of rasing food, food rotted in the fields and people starved.
Scholar William McNeil once wrote: "The problem is the Chinese have never been able to organize collective effort with the sort of enthusiasm and efficiency of the Japanese. There is a kind of ruthless individualism in Chinese life, a competitiveness and acquisitiveness, that may make modern large-scale industrial organization difficult.”
Mao initially followed the Soviet model but became impatient with the slow pace of development and turned to radical mass movements like the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. See History
In the 1960s and 70s, the land in effect belonged to a production team—made up of 20 to 40 households—whose members were compensated in shares of the collective harvest by a complex system of shared points.
Collective Farms, Communes and State Farms in China
Collectives were cooperative organizations in which farmers joined together to collectively raise crops on land worked in common. The farmers were paid in food (grain, vegetables, milk and meat) and money earned by the collective. Sometimes the term collective farm and commune was used interchangeably.
Dazhai commune poster
A commune is a groups of many cooperatives. A typical one embraced 60 villages and 20,000 members. All buildings, tools, machines, land and dwellings were owned by the commune. People worked in teams of 150 to 600 people and were paid a small wage a given clothing, food and housing. A typical rural Chinese family working on a agricultural commune earned about US$700 a year.
Communes were intended to function like small cities or towns. They had their own manufacturing capabilities and worked farmers like factory workers and kept people from migrating to the cities. If needed people on communes could be mobilized for large labor-intensive projects.
State farms were "factory type" farms that specialized mainly in one kind of crop or one kind of animal. They were set up and run by the state. Workers are treated the same as factory workers and paid a regular salary.
Large Collective Farms and Communes in China
Some collective farms in China were massive. "That commune was so large," one saying went, "that the person has to take a train to see the head of the committee." During the Cultural Revolution, some collective farms doubled as Chinese gulags for intellectuals and political prisoners.
Some 26,578 communes were established by 1958. One of the largest, State Farm No. 128 of the No. 7 Division (85 miles northwest of Urumqi) employed 17,000 people (almost all Han Chinese) and had military-style checkpoints, irrigated orchards and cotton fields as well as its own foreign affairs office, television station, oil refinery and enterprises for marketing crops and forestry products.
Another Dazhai poster
The Dazhai Commune in Shanxi province was one of the most famous communes in China. Reportedly built up from the ruins of great flood by 500 peasants, it boasted record grain productions and it provided a model for other communes across China. Over the years Danzhai was visited three times by Zhou Enai, twice by Deng Xiaoping as well as by Queen Beatrice of Netherlands, Pol Pot from Cambodia and leaders from Africa, Albania and East Germany. Later it was revealed that Dazhai was a sham. The record grain reports were fiction, production figures were exaggerated and the commune was subsidized. According to one writer, "Nowdays to many people the whole thing about Dazhai looks like a joke."
Collective Farm Organization in China
Authority for collective farms was determined by national laws or by rules drawn up by the collective farm. Each collective was run by a chairman-manager and board made up of Communist party loyalists theoretically elected by members of the collective. The collective farm chairman controlled all the resources and incomes.
Collectives, state farms and communes were often very inefficient. They often had armies of administrators, bookkeepers, veterinarians, dentists along with farmers that often wouldn’t hit the fields until 11:00am and sometimes did the threshing and winnowing by hand when their machines broke down.
Workers who followed the Soviet model worked in units called brigades or links that were directed brigade or link leaders. They often worked in teams of "labor-day" units, with certain tasks regarded as requiring more labor than others. A day of harvesting for example might be worth a whole labor day while a day of milking might be worth only half a day. Workers "earnings" were drawn against their future "income" of labor days.
At the end of each labor day units were tallied up by the brigade or link leader. At the end of the year, earnings and labor days are added up. If there was a surplus of labor days, a workers might receive a bonus of some sort.
As was true with factory workers, farm workers lacked incentives. A worker on a collective farm told the New York Times, since farmland belongs to the state "nobody is interested in working and producing on it." The man said he hated working on a the collective because his bosses were always telling him what to do.
Yet another Dazhai poster
Benefits on a Collective in China
Collectives provided education, housing and transportation. Workers enjoyed a lifestyle similar to that of industrial workers, receiving paid vacation and social benefits such as maternity leave, health insurance, pensions and access to cultural events and continuing education.
Each farm family usually had a small plot of land on which it was allowed to grow vegetables and raise animals. The food produced was supposed to be for the family's consumption. Sometimes extra food was sold for extra cash on the black market or authorized private markets. Farmers who had access to urban markets could earn a considerable amount of money.
People who lived in communes sometimes slept in dormitories and ate in mess halls. But mostly they lived in one- or two-room houses or huts they sometimes built themselves. Until the 1970s these homes often lacked indoor plumbing and electricity. In forested areas these were made of wood. In the steppes they were made of mud brick. In other places they were often made of concrete slabs or brick. They houses often had thatch or sheet metal roofs.
Men only had two days off a week and women had three days off. Women were given a month off after the gave birth. There were special tasks for children and old people. Students often studied at school for five hours in the morning and worked in the afternoons. Measures were taken to keep people from migrating to the cities.
Collectivization and Class Status in China
The first major action to alter village society was the land reform of the late 1940s and early 1950s, in which the party sent work teams to every village to carry out its land reform policy. This in itself was an unprecedented display of administrative and political power. The land reform had several related goals. The work teams were to redistribute some (though not all) land from the wealthier families or land-owning trusts to the poorest segments of the population and so to effect a more equitable distribution of the basic means of production; to overthrow the village elites, who might be expected to oppose the party and its programs; to recruit new village leaders from among those who demonstrated the most commitment to the party's goals; and to teach everyone to think in terms of class status rather than kinship group or patron-client ties. [Source: Library of Congress]
“ In pursuit of the last goal, the party work teams convened extensive series of meetings, and they classified all the village families either as landlords, rich peasants, middle peasants, or poor peasants. These labels, based on family landholdings and overall economic position roughly between 1945 and 1950, became a permanent and hereditary part of every family's identity and, as late as 1980, still affected, for example, such things as chances for admission to the armed forces, colleges, universities, and local administrative posts and even marriage prospects. [Ibid]
“The collectivization of agriculture was essentially completed with the establishment of the people's communes in 1958. Communes were large, embracing scores of villages. They were intended to be multipurpose organizations, combining economic and local administrative functions. Under the commune system the household remained the basic unit of consumption, and some differences in standards of living remained, although they were not as marked as they had been before land reform. Under such a system, however, upward mobility required becoming a team or commune cadre or obtaining a scarce technical position such as a truck driver's. [Ibid]
Life in a Chinese Commune
At communes and collectives the traditional family system was broken down. Some people slept in dormitories and ate in mess halls. Children were cared for in day care centers so their mothers could work. Old people were placed in special dwellings called "happy homes." To escape from this system many commune residents lived in small single-story brick houses they built themselves. Chinese peasant were generally allowed to have pigs and garden plots to raise food for themselves but not to sell.
Workers typically worked eight or nine hours a day and had weekends off. Sometimes when there was a lot of work to do they worked on the weekends. A typical day began at 5:00am when loudspeaker woke everyone up. After roll call, calisthenics and breakfast of dark bread and grits, people worked in the fields. Around 12:00noon the workers took a break for lunch, which was often made in a barn near the fields and served to workers near where they were working. It often consisted of stew or borscht served from a common pot served with potatoes, black bread and salted pork.
Work usually ended around 5:00pm. Dinner was served around 6:00. If there was time workers often worked their family garden plots. For entertainment there were self-criticism sessions, propaganda films, discussions of Marxism and gatherings and singing parties held in the collective’s recreation hall.
The work was often very tough. A woman told him, "After giving birth to first son I still had to keep working, making shoes for the soldiers, twenty shoes everyday for the soldiers. I kept my son in the corner and had to keep working." On first arrival to collective farm, one peasant told National Geographic, "We came here in March, walking from Urumqi. Nine days. We shot wild pigs and wild sheep for food."
DENG-ERA AGRICULTURE IN CHINA
In 1979, three years after Mao's death, Deng Xiaoping began dismantling the "rigidly" controlled agriculture collectives and encouraging farmers to raise crops in individual plots. According to rules that varied from province to province, farmers were allowed to hire a certain numbers of laborers, and sell their surplus. Peasants were not allowed to own land but they were given long term leases and rights to renew the leases so their was an incentive for them to take care of the land. Land rights—except in terms of buying, selling and titled ownership—was given to agriculture labor organization to individual families. In effect the pre-revolutionary system was restored with state holding claim to part of the crop instead of the landlord.
In the 1980s, families in areas affected by the reforms were given a little over half an acre to tend. Those that possessed good fertile land were able to make a healthy profits growing rice, vegetables, sugar and other products. Those that wanted more joined together with other farmers and improved irrigation and roads and became more productive an made even more money. Deng also introduced incentive price bonuses for above-quota grain production and launched a "responsibility system" which allowed farmers to sell surplus crops on the open market after the met their government quotas. In 1984, in an effort to increase production, the quota was dropped completely in 1984 for all crops expect cotton and grain.
According to the Library of Congress: By the end of 1984, approximately 98 percent of the old production teams had adopted the contract responsibility system, and all but 249 communes had been dissolved, their governmental functions passed on to 91,000 township and town governments. Production team organizations were replaced by 940,000 village committees. Under the responsibility system, farm families no longer devoted most of their efforts to collective production but instead generally signed contracts with the village or town to cultivate a given crop on a particular piece of land. After harvest a certain amount of the crop had to be sold to the unit at a predetermined price, and any output beyond that amount was the property of the family, either to be sold in the market or to be consumed. Beyond the amount contracted for delivery to the collective, farmers were allowed to determine for themselves what and how to produce. [Source: Library of Congress]
“Market activity played a central role in the rural economy of the 1980s. Farmers sold a growing share of their produce in rural or urban free markets and purchased many of the inputs that had formerly been supplied by the team or brigade. A prominent new institution that thrived in the market environment was the "specialized household." Specialized households operated in the classic pattern of the entrepreneur, buying or renting equipment to produce a good or service that was in short supply locally. Some of the most common specialties were trucking, chicken raising, pig raising, and technical agricultural services, such as irrigation and pest control. Many of the specialized households became quite wealthy relative to the average farmer. [Ibid]
“The new economic climate and the relaxation of restrictions on the movements of rural residents gave rise to numerous opportunities for profit-making ventures in the countryside. Towns, villages, and groups of households referred to as "rural economic unions" established small factories, processing operations, construction teams, catering services, and other kinds of nonagricultural concerns. Many of these organizations had links with urban enterprises that found the services of these rural units to be less expensive and more efficient than those of their formal urban counterparts. [Ibid]
“The growth of these nonagricultural enterprises in the countryside created a large number of new jobs, making it possible for many workers who were no longer needed in agriculture to "leave the land but stay in the country," significantly changing the structure of the rural economy and increasing rural incomes. In 1986 nonagricultural enterprises in the countryside employed 21 percent of the rural labor force and for the first time produced over half the value of rural output. [Ibid]
Even though many farmers used hoes instead of tractors, crop yields jumped dramatically. Wheat production doubled between 1978 and 1985 from 41 million to 87 million tons. By 1987 the output of grains and tubers was three times that of India and almost equal to that of the U.S. and Soviet Union. Agriculture has been neglected in the later stages of the economic reforms. By the 1990s the benefits received by farmers began to level off and the real farm incomes decreased as the costs of fertilizer, hybrid seeds and other necessities rose faster than crop prices.
Deng-era farmer's market
See Deng Reforms and the Poor, Poor, Life
Decollectivization in China
Under the collectivized system, grain production kept up with population growth (China's population nearly doubled from 1950 to 1980), and the rural population was guaranteed a secure but low level of subsistence. But the collectivized system seemed to offer few possibilities for rapid economic growth. There was some discontent with a system that relied so heavily on orders from above and made so little allowance for local conditions or local initiative. In the late 1970s, administrators in provincial-level units with extensive regions of low yields and consequent low standards of living began experimenting with new forms of tenure and production. In most cases, these took the form of breaking up the collective production team, contracting with individual households to work assigned portions of collective land, and expanding the variety of crops or livestock that could be produced. The experiments were deemed successful and popular, and they soon spread to all districts. By the winter of 1982-83, the people's communes were abolished; they were replaced by administrative townships and a number of specialized teams or businesses that often leased such collective assets as tractors and provided services for money. [Source: Library of Congress]
“The agricultural reforms of the early 1980s led to a confusingly large number of new production arrangements and contracts. Underlying the variability of administrative and contractual forms were several basic principles and trends. In the first place, land, the fundamental means of production, remained collective property. It was leased, allocated, or contracted to individual households, but the households did not own the land and could not transfer it to other households. The household became, in most cases, the basic economic unit and was responsible for its own production and losses. Most economic activity was arranged through contracts, which typically secured promises to provide a certain amount of a commodity or sum of money to the township government in return for the use of land, or workshops, or tractors. [Ibid]
“The goal of the contracting system was to increase efficiency in the use of resources and to tap peasant initiative. The rigid requirement that all villages produce grain was replaced by recognition of the advantages of specialization and exchange, as well as a much greater role for markets. Some "specialized households" devoted themselves entirely to production of cash crops or provision of services and reaped large rewards. The overall picture was one of increasing specialization, differentiation, and exchange in the rural economy and in society in general. Rural incomes increased rapidly, in part because the state substantially increased the prices it paid for staple crops and in part because of economic growth stimulated by the expansion of markets and the rediscovery of comparative advantage. [Ibid]
Chinese Communes After Deng Reforms
Under Deng, some communes were kept going. Members of the most productive collective in China, the Western Pass Commune near Shandong, saw their earnings per person jump from about 100 yuan in 1971 to 9,000 yuan in 1986. In 1971, the commune had one function: raising wheat. Beginning in 1979, each person was given about a 1,000 yuan a year and the rest of the money earned by the commune was reinvested into the commune. After 1979 the commune began raising many kinds of crops and later it opened a hotel, set up transportation services and established different kinds of industries. The commune even had a hospital with modern equipment. Other communes didn’t do so well. Some commune workers go months without getting paid.
Most communes and collectives were broken up or abandoned and their land was divided up among private landowners. In most cases the commune land was divided equally among families that lived on the commune, leaving some places dotted with farms that were only a fifth of an acre in size.
Farming households typically received about a half acre per person to cultivate themselves. They had to pay for seeds and fertilizer themselves and fulfil production quotas but otherwise they were free to grow what the wanted. Many grew lucrative crops they could sell for profit such as melons. In many cases productivity increased and harvests were much bigger.
China's 700 million farmers are largely considered independent. Still they raise crops on government land and many sell them to state-owned grain companies. Some collective farms were purchased entrepreneurs and turned into large farms that grow cash crops.
Scientific farming poster
Improved Crop Yields After Deng Reforms
In 1949 China could only support about seven of its citizens on a hectare of land now it can support about 12 people on that amount of land. With tractors, fertilizers and improved seeds in some cases 60 farmers can raises as much food as 1,200 people 20 years ago.
Crops yields have been improved through intercropping, interplanting, winter farming, improved technology and using plastic greenhouses to raise vegetables out of season. Mainly with the help of irrigation and flood control schemes, food production in China doubled between 1952 and 1992. The use of chemical fertilizer increased four times from 1978 to 1993 but the grain output was only 50 percent higher.
These improvements have been cancelled out as the amount of arable land has shrunk and the population increases.
Consequences of Rural Reform in China
Decollectivization increased the options available to individual households and made household heads increasingly responsible for the economic success of their households. In 1987, for example, it was legally possible to leave the village and move into a nearby town to work in a small factory, open a noodle stand, or set up a machine repair business. Farmers, however, still could not legally move into medium-sized or large cities. The Chinese press reported an increased appreciation in the countryside for education and an increased desire for agriculturally oriented newspapers and journals, as well as clearly written manuals on such profitable trades as rabbit-raising and beekeeping. As specialization and division of labor increased, along with increasingly visible differences in income and living standards, it became more difficult to encompass most of the rural population in a few large categories. During the early 1980s, the pace of economic and social change in rural China was rapid, and the people caught up in the change had difficulty making sense of the process. [Source: Library of Congress]
“The state retained both its powers and its role in the rural economy in the 1980s. Decollectivization, like the collectivization of the 1950s, was directed from the top down. Sometimes, apparently, it was imposed on communities that had been content with their collective methods. But in permitting households and communities greater leeway to decide what to produce and in allowing the growth of rural markets and small-scale industries, the state stepped back from the close supervision and mandatory quotas of the 1960s and 1970s. [Ibid]
“Decollectivization obviated the supervisory functions of lowlevel cadres, who no longer needed to oversee work on the collective fields. Some cadres became full-time administrators in township offices, and others took advantage of the reforms by establishing specialized production households or by leasing collective property at favorable rates. Former cadres, with their networks of connections and familiarity with administrative procedures, were in a better position than ordinary farmers to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the growth of markets and commercial activity. Even those cadres not wholly devoted to increasing their own families' income found that to serve their fellow villagers as expected it was necessary to act as entrepreneurs. Village-level cadres in the mid-1980s were functioning less as overseers and more as extension agents and marketing consultants. [Ibid]
“By 1987 rural society was more open and diverse than in the 1960s and 1970s, and the rigid collective units of that period, which had reflected the state's overwhelming concern for security, had been replaced by networks and clusters of smaller units. The new, looser structure demonstrated the priority placed on efficiency and economic growth. Basic security, in the sense of an adequate supply of food and guarantees of support for the disabled, orphaned, or aged, was taken for granted. Less than half of China's population remembered the insecurity and risks of pre-1950 society, but the costs and inefficiencies of the collective system were fresh in their minds. Increased specialization and division of labor were trends not likely to be reversed. In the rural areas the significance of the work unit appeared to have diminished, although people still lived in villages, and the actions of low-level administrative cadres still affected ordinary farmers or petty traders in immediate ways. [Ibid]
“The state and its officials still dominated the economy, controlled supplies of essential goods, taxed and regulated businesses and markets, and awarded contracts. The stratification system of the Maoist period had been based on a hierarchy of functionally unspecialized cadres directing the labors of a fairly uniform mass of peasants. It was replaced in the 1980s by a new elite of economically specialized households and entrepreneurs who had managed to come to terms with the administrative cadres who controlled access to many of the resources necessary for economic success. Local cadres still had the power to impose fees, taxes, and all manner of exactions. The norms of the new system were not clear, and the economic and social system continued to change in response to the rapid growth of rural commerce and industry and to national economic policies and reforms. [Ibid]
Increased commercial activity produced a high degree of normative ambiguity, especially in areas like central Guangdong and Jiangsu provinces, where rural economic growth was fastest. Neither the proper role of local officials nor the rights and obligations of new entrepreneurs or traders were clear. The line between the normal use of personal contacts and hospitality and extraordinary and criminal favoritism and corruption was ambiguous. There were hints of the development of a system of patron-client ties, in which administrative cadres granted favors to ordinary farmers in return for support, esteem, and an occasional gift. The increased number of corruption cases reported in the Chinese press and the widespread assumption that the decollectivization and rural economic reforms had led to growing corruption probably reflected both the increased opportunities for deals and favors of all sorts and the ambiguous nature of many of the transactions and relationships. The party's repeated calls for improved "socialist spiritual civilization" and the attempts of the central authorities both to create a system of civil law and to foster respect for it can be interpreted as responses to the problem. On the local level, where cadres and entrepreneurs were engaged in constant negotiation on the rules of their game, the problem was presumably being addressed in a more straightforward fashion. [Ibid]
Image Sources: Landsberger Posters http://www.iisg.nl/~landsberger/; Commune in the 11950s, Ohio State University; Deng-era market, Nolls China website http://www.paulnoll.com/China/index.html, Wiki Commons; Asia Obscura http://asiaobscura.com/ ;
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated August 2012