The Common Program of the People's Republic of China 1949-1954

Article 23 of the Common Program

In his address to party congress of April 1945, Mao Zedong argues the importance of the militia “…this army is powerful because it has the people’s self-defence corps and the militia — the vast armed organizations of the masses — fighting in co-ordination with it. In the Liberated Areas of China all men and women, from youth to middle age, are organized in the people’s anti-Japanese self-defence corps on a voluntary and democratic basis and without giving up their work in production. The cream of the self-defence corps, except for those who join the army or the guerrilla units, is brought into the militia. Without the cooperation of these armed forces of the masses it would be impossible to defeat the enemy.”
A day later on April 26, Zhu De again, stresses the importance of the militia “The enormous force of militia corps in the liberated areas is something we never had before. We have now learned the technique of organizing militia corps. The significance and importance of this accomplishment are beyond imagination. Militia corps, once formed, can cooperate with the regular armed forces in battle. They may separately shoulder battle tasks. They also play an important role protecting the production campaigns of the populace. . . .In various localities arrangements have been made to link together militia corps for joint protection and battle assignments. Herein may be seen the beginning of militia corps gradually evolving into and becoming regular armed forces of the localities. At the same time the militia corps and self-protection units also take part in general production activities. This enables war prosecution and production activities to be linked together and become coordinated. . . .”
As soon as the CCP had the opportunity “Local militias, in particular "self-defence corps" (ziweituan) and "landlord troops" (huanxiangtuan), were described as "anti-Communist" or "anti-people" organizations by the Communists, and were required to cease all activities after 15 January 1949. Their members were obliged to register, and hand over all important documents, broadcasting equipment and weapons. Failure to register turned organization leaders into criminals…"
The ACFTU, the CCP and the PLA are engaged in a struggle for control of the militia. "Complex politics developed among them over the militias’ role and control, with workers themselves serving only as recruits mobilized into service rather than as the organizers themselves. But even so, some continued to act on their own initiative – for example, by resisting orders to disarm. If anything, the wider working class’s own political role in 1949 and the early 1950s was to resist these state-run militias, which often proved ineffective in their assigned role of bringing working-class radicalism under control." During the land reform campaign, the militia had the monopoly of violence. "…neither work teams nor ordinary peasants authorized to take justice into their own hands, but the speak bitterness ritual created an emotionally charged atmosphere that was difficult to contain.68 Millions lost their lives in the Land Reform Campaign, some to militia firing squads and others to agitated villagers."


On May 16, 1950, the CC and the CMC issued the "Directive on Strengthening the Construction of Militias". The directive proposes the implementation of a universal militia system throughout the country. The principle of voluntary participation in the militia practiced in the past years is changed into general participation. It stipulates that all young men of the right age shall have the right and obligation to participate in the militia as long as they are in good health and regardless of ethnicity, race, social origin, and education level.
In November 1950, the CCP decided to let the militia grow to 5% of the population (about 23 million people). Everybody between the age of 18 and 31 years old can apply for the militia. The task of this militia is maintaining local order and giving support to the Land Reform and picking up "criminals" who stand trial in the people’s tribunals. The main task of the militia is mainly suppressing riots in tax collection and the introduction of agricultural reforms. The role of supporting the regular army disappears, although the recruiting of militia troops occurs during the Korean War. As the war in Korea drags on, the average citizens became more alert of domestic enemies. In February 1950, there were 109 militias in Shanghai, "Yet, by the end of 1950, Shanghai citizens had organized 742 Winter Defense Service Teams staffed by 29,691 members. Up to April 1951, the number of Service Team reached 2020, and membership expanded to 174,846."
The number of 23 million recruits is not reached, due to “First, the Korean War made recruitment into the regular armed forces more important than the militia and so, as stated, some militia members were recruited into the regular army. Second, militia work suffered as PLA modernization was looked at as more important than militia work.”
Bruggen (1981) states that the militia was expanded from 5 million in 1950 to 12,8 million in September 1951. 700.000 militias were recruited for the Chinese People's Volunteers
The PRC possessed weak naval capacity to impose authority over the coastal waters of the mainland. To solve this problem an organized maritime militia is established. Fishermen are recruited, because they are the only experienced mariners. "The CCP targeted the fishing communities, creating fishing collectives and work units, enacting strict organizational control, and conducting political education.8" March 6, 1950, more than 200 Beihai militiamen dispatched 140 large and small ships to cooperate with the Fourth Field Army of the PLA to occupy Weizhou and the maritime militia played an important role in the conquest of Hainan (see Article 2).

On December 11, 1952, enters into force the new regime of militias. It regulates the formation of militia on provincial, Regional, district, city, and village levels. The militia should from now on enforce the bond between the PLA and the masses (especially with the farmers). The PLA supplies weaponry and training. A clear distinction is made between rural and urban Regions. “…no militias were permitted in the urban districts of metropolitan areas. Factories, mines, shops, and enterprises were explicitly prohibited from establishing militia organizations among their workforce. In the countryside, by contrast, militia construction—again under military supervision—was touted as a national priority.”
In reality, the militia receive little training and the militia sometimes do some patrol services or they have to fulfil tasks which are not in accordance with the intention of the purpose of the militia. “There were complaints from the militia that even in small country villages the local cadre would demand their services to do sentry go outside his office, or to act as an escort of honor when he went abroad.” The militia activities should not come into conflict with agricultural production. As far as national security is involved the militia hardly play any role because they are not fit to fight rebels. This is a task of the regular army.

On July 30, 1955, the Second Meeting of the 1st National People’s Congress ratified the Military Service Law of the People’s Republic of China, which stipulated the People’s Republic of China shall practice a military service system based mainly on conscription. According to this law, China started to practice conscription in 1956.

24-04-1945 Mao Zedong "On coalition government"
RMRB gives a summary on the history of the militia. RMRB: 10-08-1952 "The powerful assistant and powerful reserve army of the Chinese People's Liberation Army - the militia" [↩]
Dikötter (1997). Page 152 [↩] [Cite]
Blecher (2022). Page 153 [↩] [Cite]
Perry (2019). Page 551 [↩] [Cite]
Wen (2015). Page 104 [↩] [Cite]
Bunk (no date). Page 10 [↩] [Cite]
Brugger (1981). Page 75 [↩] [Cite]
Erickson Andrew S. and Kennedy Conor M. (no date). Page 3 [↩] [Cite]
Perry (2006). Page 181 [↩] [Cite]
Cressy (1957). Page 252
There are also complains about militiamen, see for example RMRB 16-03-1951 "Some militiamen in Hengshui County are not serious about protecting state property. They cover each other and steal sugar from department stores. The local government should deal with it seriously and strictly educate them." [↩] [Cite]


28-11-1952 Interim Regulations of the People's Republic of China on Militia Organizations

Chapter 3 of Common Program