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

Article 27 of the Common Program

In 1949, about 90% of the total population of the PRC lived in rural areas. The amount of arable land in China is limited. A large part of Chinese territory is occupied by mountains, desert and eroded land. Characterized by arid grasslands in the northwest, extensive plateaus and imposing mountain ranges in the western part, and rugged hills in the southern and southwestern regions, China's landscape offers limited arable land to its inhabitants. What little arable land exists is primarily concentrated in five specific areas: (1) the Northeast or Heilongjiang Plain, renowned as China's primary producer of sorghum and soybeans; (2) the North China Plain, the earliest and largest of China's farming regions, dominated by the Yellow River and yielding winter wheat, sorghum, maize, and cotton; (3) the Middle and Lower Yangtze Plain, a significant rice-producing region; (4) the Chengdu Plain, a fertile basin for rice cultivation in western Sichuan; and (5) several valleys in southern China, particularly the Pearl River Delta in southern Guangdong, which offer pockets of rice and subtropical cultivation within the hilly terrain. This geographical layout explains why 90 percent of China's population resides on only one-sixth of the total land area. In fact, the last four of these regions collectively account for about three-quarters of the population.
Fig. 27.1: Rural population and rural labour force
Crook (1988). Page 14
* thousands
The rural economy, before the land reform can be characterized as a small-scale private agricultural economy. Landlords and rich peasants leased their land to poor farmers and received rents from them. In most countries over the world, rich peasants leased land from other people to carry out their farming. They had adequate cash and implements and used them to expand their farm and employing labour. The Chinese system exists of concentrated ownership and increasingly scattered farming. The share of cultivated land owned by landlords was actually below 40% (see fig. 27.11 ), and a quarter of these lands was possessed in by collective owners, owners thus being schools, temples, extended families or lineages. The landlords regard land as a safe investment and are only interested in rent collection, the peasants, on the other hand, have no resources to increase production.

Fig. 27.2: Changes in Land reform policy
For the CCP, land reform comes into play as a tool to unify the interests of the army, the peasants, and the Party. A revolution is an extended armed conflict, guided by the CCP and bolstered by the masses. Each of the three components (the PLA, the Party, and the masses) has a crucial role to fulfil. The army serves as the foundation of power, as power fundamentally emanates from the use of force. The CCP acts as the core, providing the ideology, organization, and leadership. The populace contributes the manpower and resources needed for the prolonged conflict. In an agrarian economy, the populace primarily refers to the peasants.
Land reform started in 1927, and this stage ended in 1931. Between 1927 and 1929 the GMD government started reducing rent without any confiscation in Guangdong, Zhejiang and Jiangsu. The CCP policy in this period can be characterized as incoherent, due to the fragmented organization nature and the weak party structure.
The following stages were initiated by the CCP. The next stage lasted from 1931-1934 and was characterized by rent reduction and confiscation of land of the landlords as the only reliable source of income for the red Army. Land reform was brought by the CCP to areas lying in the route of their Long March. The third stage from August 1937 to May 1946, rent reduction and confiscation of land from national traitors (pro Japanese). During the fourth stage, from May 1946 to October 1947, redistribution of land ownership is the main objective. From October 1947 the land reform is based on equal redistribution on a family or household basis.
The GMD and CCP campaigns were based on the Three Principles of the People of Sun Yatsen, who preferred a policy of equalization of land ownership and the land-to-the-tiller principle. The GMD favours a peaceful transference, the CCP confiscation. In reality, the GMD administration did not place any priority on land reform and it never attempted to determine peasants’ class status. "They cooperated with the landlord- gentry class and the newly- emerged compradors. The large commercial cities along the coast became the main political centers. The welfare of the peasantry was actually neglected.16" The ruling class were interested in industrialization and commerce, they ignored the situation in the countryside and focussed on the urban regions. However, Grad (2001) notices "The rural land reform policies ofthe CCP and the democratic governments in the Northeast had definitely made an impression on the middle forces and highlighted the deficiencies in the Government's own policies. Calls to settle the Kuomintang and Communist dispute continued in 1946 yet this time they were characterized by distaste for the Nationalist government."
During the pre-1949 land reform initiatives, there was a constant fluctuation between leftist deviations, (too much violence) and rightist deviations (too little revolutionary action). There was no fundamental difference in the objectives of the land reform activists but rather with the intensity of enforcing policy.
Bays (1969) summarizes the first periods of the CCP land reform campaign "What should perhaps be reemphasized is that, despite occasional changes in tactics, the ultimate goal of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in China's rural areas remained the destruction of the system of "feudal exploitation in the countryside," and development of the "socialist transformation of agriculture. " This was decidedly not a policy of simple redistribution of land from landlord to tenant, though this was part of the process. Rather, it involved the rooting out of the totality of economic, political, and social dominance by the traditional rural elite, which stood as an obstacle both to establishment of CCP control and to eventual collectivization and massive social change in the greater part of Chinese society, and of which the system of landholding was only a part."
The prevailing narrative surrounding the rise of the CCP suggests that it gained power through leading an anti-feudal agrarian revolution. However, a more nuanced examination reveals a complex and multifaceted trajectory. The CCP underwent a notable transformation, evolving from a small guerrilla army into a mass party that governed over a vast rural population in northern China. This transformation was facilitated by a strategic departure from its earlier advocacy of land redistribution, which characterized the party's stance during the 1920s and early 1930s. Instead, the CCP shifted its focus towards organizing a predominantly nationalist resistance against Japanese occupation.
Land reform

The change in rhetoric employed by the Communist Party within the rural areas under its military control was a crucial aspect of its transformation. The emphasis on class warfare and land redistribution gave way to a renewed emphasis on the notion of "national salvation," particularly within the patriotic front groups. Recognizing the imperative to forge alliances with various social forces against the shared enemy of Japanese occupation, the CCP positioned the struggle against Japan as its primary objective. It was not until 1942, with the tide of the war beginning to turn against Japan, that the CCP actively pursued the implementation of the GMD government's 1930 Land Law within the villages under its jurisdiction. However, even modest efforts to reduce rents and interest rates on agricultural loans posed a threat to the support of affluent peasants and anti-Japanese landlords, who played instrumental roles in providing crucial supplies and military intelligence to the Communist resistance armies.
In 1944, when spontaneous expropriations of landlords occurred in certain Regions of northern China, Mao Zedong denounced these actions as an "ultra-left deviation." This denouncement underscored the CCP's cautious approach to land redistribution, driven by the imperative to maintain the support of wealthy peasants and anti-Japanese landlords who were indispensable to the Communist cause. Even after the end of the war in 1945, the CCP under pressure of Stalin, refrained from land reform policies. After the GMD troops began occupying the rural areas dominated by the CCP in 1946, the CCP started to implement the land reform policy to maintain the loyality of the poor peasants.The fundamental point of this directive was to stand along with people, supporting the massive rural population to launch the land reform for legitimate purposes. The CCP was able to mobilize millions of poor peasants to join the PLA, the Party, and mass organizations. In 1946, the “May Fourth Directive” by the Politburo, facilitated a radical redistributive strategy. Anticipating the end of the Civil War, the need for a united front with the GMD was no longer necessary. Not only radical redistribution took place, but also the purging of local cadres who were seen as infiltrators working for the landed elites. This led to a shortage of able cadres because the vacant cadre positions were taken by illiterate peasants. The CCP decided to challenge this problem by establishing centrally-delegated cadres and traveling work teams – coordinated by different levels of government – to introduce central policy principles into local practice and adaptation. This became the modus operandi during this period of land reform, and continued to be the standard practice for many policy implementation efforts in the years to come. (see below Work teams )
Upon the arrival of the CCP in Manchuria, they made promises of revolution. Three successive waves of land reform subsequently brought about a lasting transformation in the Northeast countryside. While the Northeast Government pursued a relatively accommodating approach towards private capital in urban areas, a more stringent stance was adopted in rural regions, particularly towards landowners and wealthy peasants. The Northeast leadership, despite concerns about declining agricultural production, exhibited hostility towards landlords, partly due to military considerations. The CCP aimed to dismantle classes perceived as sympathetic to the GMD, concurrently distributing land to the poorest individuals to secure their support for the CCP's expanding military conscription efforts. As the military threat diminished and attention shifted towards economic recovery, the Northeast Government adopted a more lenient position on agrarian issues. Even before the formal establishment of the PRC, the land reform in the Northeast underwent thorough scrutiny in the top of the CCP, serving as a potential model for the entire nation. The debates that arose primarily revolved around a divide between the left and the right regarding the speed of collectivization in China and the treatment of the newly affluent peasants.

Based on the Decisions concerning the differentiation of class status in the countryside there are 5 classes defined. The criteria used for class differentiation were landownership and degree of exploitation.
Fig. 27.3:Analysis of class status in countryside
A number of intermediate classes were defined. These include well-to-do middle peasant, reactionary rich peasant, bankrupt landlord, poor odd-jobbers, intellectual, idlers and religious practitioners. Problem cases were classified such as the Red Army man of landlord or rich peasant origin and his land, worker from rich peasant or landlord family, class status of landlord/rich peasant or capitalist after marriage with worker, peasant or poor odd-jobber and vice versa. "…rent and wage labor relations often occurred not between landlords and tenants and between rich peasants and wage workers but rather among middle and poor peasants. A middle peasant might rent a few mu from another and hire day labor from the households of poor peasants, often relatives or neighbors. The great majority of the residents of an individual village in any case were usually roughly equivalent cultivators."
Guo (2015) observes "…poor county with relatively less land concentration and fewer landlords, which meant less targets in the land reforms. Therefore many, ..., ‘political landlords’ were created, they were those whom CCP deemed counterrevolutionaries, including sect members, former KMT bureaucrats, and other political undesirable elements.168 They in effect filled in the gap between perceived ‘abundance’ of ‘real’ landlords in terms of economic sense and the contradictory reality."
The  Agrarian Reform law defined the objectives of land reform as it was to be carried out in the ‘new liberated areas’. See also Article 29 The law applies to rural areas in general and not to the suburbs of large cities. The land reform in the suburbs of large cities is regulated in the Land Reform suburban regulation of November 1950. The principles of these regulations were based on the experience of the land reform in suburbans of Shenyang (1948) and Beijing (1949). "However, the promotion of this local experience had de facto restrictions. Notably, the People’s Government of the Greater Region (…) or Military Administration Committee (…) reserved the right to determine the scope of application of this suburban land reform regulation, and the Municipal People’s Government of related cities could decide the range of their suburbs.25 In other words, the regulations were not applicable in many other small cities.26 Nonetheless, during the land reform in newly liberated areas, especially cities to which this regulation applied were many. For example, in East China from late 1950 to early 1951, cities including Shanghai, Nanjing, Wuxi, Yangzhou, and some mining areas such as Zibo, approximately 22 in total, were all of the applicability of the Regulation. 27"
The Land Reform Law did not stipulate hard numerical targets for local authorities. "In 1950, CCP directives instructed top cadres to take the lead personally in implementing land reform experiments.37 In East China, Rao Shushi supervised a total of 370 “model experiment townships” designed to find effective ways to prepare for full-scale land redistribution. The experimental process was supposed to last up to three months and Rao made it clear that, as in guerrilla war, “drastic” violent measures had to be taken at certain points to overcome resistance and to “achieve breakthroughs”.38" These areas were especially the Regions south of the Chang Jiang, where the CCP had prior to end 1948 and 1949 less influence than in the North. The CCP emphasizes that in the short term the preservation of the rich-peasant-economy would be the ‘general line’. "In Southern China, the land reform was not initiated in early 1950 for two reasons: (1) these Regions were just liberated from the KMT’s governance that many preparatory works were not done; (i.e., the construction of local party organization, the Reduction in Loan and Interest Campaign) (2) the winter in 1949 and 1950 was not suitable for immediate land reform in the Southern part of China due to the severe weather conditions and food shortage"
It should be noticed that the redistribution of property and power in villages was achieved through land reform, while the redistribution of property and power within families was accomplished through marriage reform. The  Marriage reform law granted women and children equal property rights, while the land reform law granted them actual land ownership. Despite the interconnectedness of these two reforms and their simultaneous implementation, leaders of the land reform movement did not display a strong inclination to coordinate the educational efforts of cadres in both marriage and land reform activities. Prior to 1949, the leadership expressed concerns that addressing marriage reform issues would undermine and complicate the class-based struggles of land reform. Such issues crossed class boundaries and had the potential to create divisions within the ranks. The Marriage Law not only stirred controversy by challenging long-standing moral values but also posed a threat to male economic positions. For instance, a financially disadvantaged male peasant might discover that the gains he anticipated from land reform could be diminished or entirely nullified if his wife or daughter-in-law utilized the Marriage Law to leave the family and claim her rightful share of land. Undoubtedly, many land reform authorities believed that dealing with the complexities of land reform was challenging enough without simultaneously grappling with these types of women's issues. See Article 6 for more details. "Women's labor, whether performed in the court-yard, on family fields or in a village women's coop, was considered family labor, as indeed was the labor of younger males as long as they remained in the households of their fathers. And the fruits of family labor were formally controlled by the family head, usually the eldest male of the patrilineal line. Similarly, women's land was naturally viewed as the land of patrilineally defined families." Shue (1988) makes some relevant remarks. In the early 1950s, amid land reform and initial agricultural collectivization in China, policies underscored the importance of small localities, specifically hamlets and villages, in organizing peasant life. Land seizures and redistribution during the reform focused on the xiang or village as the relevant unit. Typically, a xiang contained fewer than a thousand people, forming a periodic marketing area. Unlike some third-world countries, China lacked national or regional minimum grants for the landless and land poor. Distribution within a village determined what a poor tenant family received. The economic, political, and moral concerns of Chinese peasants were confined to the xiang, with no long-distance transfers or regional standards. See for land reform in minority regions Article 51

Fig. 27.4: Chart of policy and implementation structure of the Land Reform
Wong (1974). Page 10
Luo (2020) distinguishes 6 groups from which the CCP recruited its cadres to form work teams:
1. The primary bureaucratic backbone for managing the takeover at the county level was made up of the party's cadres who had experience governing the Northern revolutionary bases, totaling around 53,000 individuals. These cadres were informally known as 'Southbound Cadres.' They were seasoned battlefield veterans or versed in skills related to wartime mobilization in the base areas during the Civil War, but do not necessarily have the administrative insights into orderly governance. They were often given more leadership positions at the county and provincial levels.
2. Guerrilla cadres that were still present in certain regions of the Southern provinces were also part of this structure. Their loyalty and revolutionary credentials were not tested during the rectification campaigns. The Southern native cadres often played second fiddle.
3. PLA officers were placed in bureaucratic roles whenever possible to integrate the military into administrative work teams. They were more familiar with party policy and experienced with the governance of liberated areas.
4. The military leadership held significant positions within the larger regional bureaus and provincial governments.
5. The party aimed to recruit individuals from the intelligentsia and former state agents who had served under the Nationalist regime. However, they were later considered unreliable.
6. Young students and urban laborers were mobilized through 'service corps' to address the shortage of bureaucratic personnel. In summary, the CCP created a multifaceted organizational structure that combined experienced cadres, guerrilla forces, military officers, and recruits from different backgrounds to facilitate the Southern takeover. The Southbound cadres were considered to implement leftist deviations, (too much violence) and the local cadres to implement rightist deviations (too little revolutionary action).
The work teams, upon arriving in a village, started with installing telephone lines to maintain contact with the higher echelon of the Party. The work teams were often accompanied with a small drama group to enact plays about the success of agrarian reform in other Regions. Then, they started screening the village population to find the ‘positive elements’ who could serve as local leaders of village organizations. (See fig 27.5 1 preparatory work) Below the county level, Peasants’ Associations were organized, they were designated as the legal executive organs for the land reform. Agricultural labours, poor peasants, middle peasants, rural handicraftsmen, and impoverished intellectuals could become members. In 1950, more then 50 million peasants were members, the number increased to 88 million in 1951. The second phase was target selection and determining the class status of the population. (See fig 27.5 2 target selection) Carefully orchestrated mass meetings were held to denounce landlords. "Use of these new words during public debates became standard, indeed obligatory oratory practice. In the meantime, attending these assemblies became a symbol of personal right and social status. If someone was denied the right to attend a meeting, it implied that he was excluded and had been identified as a “class enemy.” As a consequence, no one would voluntarily skip meetings and risk being excluded from the whole movement. "
(See fig 27.5 3 mass rallies)
Fig. 27.5: A Model of the Process of Mobilization of Collective Violence during Land Reform
Javed (2022). Page 35
"By 1951, the Party’s guidelines for land reform had been consolidated into six steps, of which steps 2 to 6 are crucial to Chinese-style policy experimentation to the present day: (1) train work team cadres and send them down to the localities; (2) carry out model experiments; (3) accomplish breakthroughs in a key point; (4) broaden the campaign from point to surface; (5) integrate point and surface with regard to the applied measures; (6) unfold the campaign in steady steps.39"
A large number of intelectuals particpated in the work teams. In this way, they could learn about class struggle and land reform. The last participants were active in the end of 1951 to the middle of 1952. Zhou Enlai motivates this view: "Most of our country’s intellectuals came from landlord or bourgeois families, so we can’t expect them to take the side of working class all at once…So to remold themselves, intellectuals too should go through tempering and engage in study and practice. The reason intellectuals should go down to the countryside and into factories is precisely to learn the thinking and standpoints of the working class and other laboring people."
The intellectuals had the opportunity to participate in observe teams to visit model or experimental Regions to see how the land reform was carried out. They could also participate in a work team living with the peasants and experience the total process of the land reform campaign. Those working in the observation teams often reported about their experience in the RMRB.
Liu (2021) observes "For the academic intellectuals who had prestige in the Republican era, their motivations to participate in the land reform were various, from the “gold-plated” thinking (i.e., to enrich the revolutionary experience and learn official language) to altruism (i.e., helping peasants). To some extent, it was also possible to tell that their motivations to participate in the land reform was to complete a political mission to help them accommodate into the new regime. Many scholars had no experience with rural lifestyle and no opinion about rural hardship. These factors possibly formed the “gold-plated” thinking among the academic professors." During the emergence of "New China," intellectuals involved in land reform committed themselves to both national transformation and personal growth through active participation in the agrarian revolution. However, the ideological constraints of Maoist China led to a paradoxical outcome. Firstly, the genuineness of these intellectuals' intentions was consistently undermined by the class struggle rhetoric, which raised doubts about their ability to overcome their familial backgrounds. Secondly, due to the Maoist class system, these intellectuals could only express their experiences using prescribed language, further contributing to the suspicion surrounding the category of "intellectual." Consequently, land reform intellectuals became part of the revolutionary movement while simultaneously casting doubt on the intellectual identity. The success of land reform, which relied on the dedicated efforts of educated elites numbering in the tens of thousands, marked a significant moment in the history of Chinese intellectuals. It established enduring dynamics within the intellectual-peasant relationship throughout the revolutionary era, often leading to tragic consequences.
University students enrolled in 1948-1949 were required to join work teams, except for senior students who would study in the Soviet Union or was assigned to work in important institutions. Those who were member of the Communist Youth League members were more enthusiastic in participating in the land reform to understand class struggle and demonstrate their revolutionary enthusiasm. The members of the team were to follow the 'three-together' principle in establishing their relationship with the local peasants; that is, they were to live, eat, and work together with the poor peasants and farm laborers. Members of the work teams could also be recruited from the PLA, and even Minzhu Dangpai cadres could join, after receiving training courses.
Following China's entry into the Korean War in the winter of 1950, the Party placed renewed importance on political affairs. The implementation of land reform in the Central South Region of China in 1950 and 1951 was associated with the 'Resist-America Aid-Korea' campaign. This initiative followed a strategic approach known as 'From the near to the far,' linking the expression of grievances, known as speaking bitterness, to a series of progressive steps from personal and family grievances to broader societal issues. This scheme aimed to elevate personal grudges to a class level, transitioning from anti-feudalism to anti-imperialism, then from anti-Japan sentiments to anti-America, ultimately culminating in a heightened sense of patriotism. This approach was also referred to as 'tracing the backstage,' with the ultimate target being President Harry Truman, symbolizing the final 'backstage' as American influence.
"It needs to be emphasized that the Land Reform was not only to destroy the feudal system as planned, but also to prepare for building the new society. After they got the land as a “present” from the government, farmers reached a conviction that the government would serve for the poor people and took it as a main characteristic of the new society, so that a new style of the relationship between the farmers and the government was made. The farmers would support and believe in the new government because only the new government distributed so much land to them."

By 1952, 47% of the arable land in China had been redistributed to the poor during land reform. The resulting private plots, though relatively equally sized, were nevertheless very small - averaging 1.6 hectares in the north and only 0.74 hectares in parts of the south.
Fig. 27.6: Ownership of cultivable land before and after reform in mainland China
Source: National Bureau of Statistics (1980). "National Agricultural Statistics in the Thirty Years of the Founding of the People's Republic of China (1949-1979)",
Other: land mainly confiscated from buddhist monks and sects
In 1952, after 2 years of the promulgation of the agrarian reform law, about 90 % of the rural population had accomplished land reform. In the winter of 1952 or spring 1953 about 30 million rural people had yet to finish the campaign.
Fig. 27.7: Progress of land reform in China.
In terms of rural population having undertaken it.
Source: Wong (1974). Table 5
*Total rural population having taken Land reform May 1952
The reform respected the desires of peasants, providing a significant boost to China's modernization process.
However, there were negative aspects, such as the division of land into small and fragmented parcels, which hindered large-scale agricultural production and modernization. Most importantly, the macro-political and economic conditions within this land property rights system did not align with the industrial development requirements of the New China. In essence, at this stage, the agrarian issue had evolved into, at least partially, an industrial concern.
Fig. 27.8: Social Structure before 1949 by Class Status and Moral Status
Javed (2022). Page 140
This matrix (fig. 27.8) plotting the pre-1949 rural social structure along the axes of class status and moral status. Tenants and landlords are on opposite ends of the class status spectrum, but there are represerrted at both ends of the moral status spectrum as well. Tenants and landlords are often linked by village-wide or lineage-based communal identities. Outside of these communal identities are low moral status groups ranging across the class status spectrum, from vagrants and thieves to strongmen and corrupt officials.
Fig. 27.9: Social Structure in the Early 1950s by Class Status and Moral Status
Javed (2022). Page 140
This matrix (fig.27.9) plotting the post-land reform rural social structure along the axes of class status and moral status. The masses, comprised of poor peasants farmworkers, and middle peasants, have high class status and high moral status. Struggle targets contain categories of people who range across the class status spectrum, from evil tyrant landlords to vagrants and thieves. Good landlords are considered high in moral status and low in class status and exist outside of the category of struggle targets.

During the land reform campaign, the CCP identified several significant challenges.
  • One prominent issue was the peasants' reluctance to harbour as much animosity toward landlords as they did towards local despots and idle villagers, known as Erliuzi. The absence of clear class distinctions between landlords and poor peasants diminished the necessity to hate and resist landlords actively. In some cases, farmers rejected the "landlord" label assigned to those whose land and properties were confiscated and redistributed. Some even returned the property when it was given to the poorest. Instances where party members or local work team members failed to wholeheartedly assist peasants and instead resorted to threats and land seizures without consequences further eroded trust, discouraging peasant support for the land reform.
  • There is a distinction between the ‘old liberated areas’ and the regions where the PLA only had partial control, which challenges the argument that the land reform movement economically benefited poor farmers and thereby helped the CCP gain popular support during the civil war. If this observation holds true for North China, where the Communists had a strong military presence, a different picture emerges in areas where the CCP did not have a military advantage over rival forces. In these regions, the outcome of land reform was more complex: on one hand, it sparked intense hatred and violence, resulting in significant casualties among all population groups, including both farmers and Communist guerrillas; on the other hand, it enabled the Communists to introduce the concept and practices of class struggle into rural areas for the first time in Chinese history, laying the groundwork for more extensive suppression of landlords and rich farmers in the early 1950s.
  • An article in the Xinwen Ribao warns for the danger of restoration of capitalism. "There are spontaneous capitalist tendencies in the small peasant economy. Since land reform, as the rural economy has developed, these spontaneous capitalist tendencies have also developed. After a minority of peasants collect a little grain they gradually begin hoarding, hiring labor, making usurious loans, engaging in commerce on the side, and other such capitalist activities, thereby exploiting others. Also in the villages are some households lacking grain which have no choice but to take loans and sell their land or animals. If this condition persists, the inevitable outcome must be the dead-end of capitalism, where a minority prosper while the great majority become poor and bankrupt. The present government policy of Unified Purchase and Supply can, to a great extent, overcome the peasants' spontaneous capitalist tendencies and put an end to the division between rich and poor in the villages. It will enable the peasants to follow the socialist road of all prospering together."
  • The success of the land reform hinged on the cooperation of peasants in the peasant association, which served as the core of the reform efforts. Reluctance among peasants to join the association presented a challenge to the progress of the land reform. University students played a crucial role in building rapport with poor peasants and hired workers, fostering an environment of mutual assistance to eliminate exploitation, suppression, and poverty. Only when peasants fully trusted the work team members would they be willing to openly share their sufferings, especially in the speaking bitterness meetings. The "Three With" guideline – eating, living, and working with peasants – became the foundation for successfully mobilizing the peasants. Work team cadres who aimed to expedite land reform, achieve objectives quickly, and restore order promptly were criticized for not prolonging the agrarian struggle and completely eliminating the landlord class. This issue was more prevalent among non-native cadres deployed from other regions, who lacked the patience to integrate into the local society. As outsiders to the villages they operated in, work teams were not tied to local interests and could enforce central policies despite resistance from local powerholders. However, their temporary and mobile nature made their efforts susceptible to being undone after their departure. To address this issue, in late 1951, the CCP started sending unannounced follow-up work teams to ensure that the initiatives of earlier teams were being maintained and enforced. Over the next year and a half, most villages in Central-South China received at least four successive rounds of Land Reform work teams.
    Work teams saw the public and confrontational struggling of landlords as essential for peasant emancipation. However, in the early campaigns, impoverished activists exploited this ritual to beat and torture their neighbors for economic gain. While later campaigns promised a more nuanced approach to class division and property redistribution, they never escaped the violent roots of class struggle. This ensured that the agrarian revolution remained aligned with Mao's narrative of liberation through violence. Despite this, many people did benefit from the rise of Communist power.
  • Furthermore, terms like 'commandism' and 'substituting oneself for the masses' were used to characterize the key mistakes made by centrally-deployed cadres during land reform implementation. These cadres often sought to return to urban areas and their original positions as soon as possible, without considering the long-term consequences of their policies. Additionally, the challenge of understanding the complex local dialects in the South meant that centrally-deployed cadres lacked essential communication tools to effectively operate in rural communities. Consequently, they were sometimes kept away from the frontlines of land reform implementation.
    Land reform

    Guangdong, however, was a major exception. Here land reform began later, took longer, and encountered more obstacles and resistance than in any other part of China. Complex land-tenure arrangements, the presence of large numbers of overseas Chinese dependants whose main source of labour power was extensive overseas Chinese landholdings, and the strength of kinship-based and other forms of local resistance challenged the state's ability to impose class-based strategies of social and political change.
  • The CCP had initially expected that once peasants acquired their own land through land reform, they would be motivated to invest in better tools and agricultural practices. However, this anticipation proved to be incorrect. Following land reform, peasants showed little enthusiasm for investing in grain production or adopting new technologies. The CCP was disappointed to find that peasants were not inclined to purchase improved farming tools or embrace innovative methods. This lack of interest in increasing agricultural productivity was partly due to the peasants' fear that the CCP might continue redistributing land. Nevertheless, this fear was just one of the factors at play. Peasants often prefer to avoid economic risks rather than strive for maximum income. They tend to resist innovations because adopting them might require abandoning familiar, low-risk systems. Moreover, after land reform, each family held smaller plots and had fewer household members, rendering them more vulnerable and risk-averse. Their primary concern was safety and stability rather than increasing productivity. Peasants not only determined the quantity of produce they would sell in the market but also chose which crops to cultivate. When soil conditions allowed, they preferred cash crops, which were more profitable than grains. The shift toward cash crop production often led to a proportional decrease in grain production.
  • The socialist agrarian reforms resulted in the complete elimination of the gentry class in rural areas, exposing individual farmers directly to the significant influence of the state. Although many local-level cadres were drawn from farming backgrounds and were expected to mediate conflicts of interest between Party officials and their fellow villagers, it became apparent that the majority of them came from impoverished farming families. They lacked the essential education, skills, awareness, or courage required to fulfill this role effectively. The primary concerns of these grassroots cadres revolved around their personal interests. This not only led them to compete with regular farmers for economic benefits but also drove them to act in self-serving ways that contradicted the Party's demand for unwavering loyalty from its members. Consequently, they failed to earn the trust of both the farmers and Party leaders, rendering them unable to serve as local leaders in the manner that the previous rural elites had once done.
    On one hand, the Party-state granted this new elite land, wealth, and an elevated economic status, bestowing upon them an elite identity through the coercive redistribution of resources. On the other hand, these new elites lacked any unique capital to exchange with the state beyond the wealth and positions provided by the state itself, which deprived them of the bargaining power that the traditional gentry elites possessed. Indeed, members of this new elite needed to maintain and advance their status through merit, but the primary criterion shifted from contributions to local public affairs to their loyalty and commitment to the state.
  • The land reform dismantled large-scale landlord ownership and established individual small peasant economies, reducing the economies of scale in land utilization. Managing land owned by over 400 million farmers became more challenging, particularly in terms of grain levying. The land reform made it difficult for the state to collect public grain efficiently. The land reform increased the transaction costs between the state and farmers, making it hard for the state to obtain sufficient public grain. This reform disrupted both the old landlord economy and the large-scale grain supply system. Consequently, the state had to purchase grain from numerous individual farmers, further increasing transaction costs. Despite an increase in production, the state's grain supply diminished. The land reform weakened state control over the rural economy, but it allowed farmers to accumulate more grain. After the long war, farmers were able to boost production and improve their living conditions.
  • As seen above, instead of local control, which was carried out by local cadres during the civil war, the CCP now introduced a system of centralized control, in which work teams were sent in from the outside. The agrarian reform law proved inadequate in addressing the challenges of land development and issues stemming from deficiencies in land use. It overlooked crucial factors such as the insufficient ratio of capital and land to labor, uneconomical land holdings, small-scale farming, low productivity, and other related concerns. With a land reform approach primarily focused on "redistribution" rather than "development," it was questionable whether the expected economic objectives could be fully realized. It is worth noting that this inquiry was influenced by certain ideological assumptions. Within the framework of the CCP's own dialectics, the question did not arise since an assault on "feudalist" landlordism was seen as a prerequisite for agricultural progress.
  • Apart from the internal challenges, the land reform campaign faced external pressures. The regime had to address various other pressing tasks, such as the Korean War effort, urban problems, and economic recovery. The vast land area and population involved in the reform effort surpassed the available pool of trained cadres. Consequently, the role of Party personnel was limited, and issues related to discipline and coordination of work teams increased accordingly. Due to the previous absence of Communist organization in these southern areas, much of the work had to be carried out by outsiders from northern provinces until local cadres could be trusted. Furthermore, the transition period required the inclusion of many local officials from the old regime. Unlike before, when land reform was directly linked to garnering support for a domestic war effort (the war against Japan), the focus had shifted to prioritizing production rather than patriotism.
  • Potter (1990) also emphasizes the political struggle between the northern cadres and the local cadres in Guangdong. The latter thought that since the party was no longer fighting for its life in the midst of an anti-Japanese war and a bloody civil war, land reform could be carried out more slowly and peacefully. This was the initial policy. However, soon the northern cadres came down to take key positions in the Cantonese government; consequently, the ensuing land reform in Guangdong was also violent and turbulent, emphasizing political struggle and class war. See also Article 5
    Bramall (2004) notices "...that group of households identified as ‘landlord’ were stripped of the bulk of their land, which was re-distributed to middle, poor and landless peasants. But rich peasants were typically deprived only of the land they rented out, and therefore left with considerably more land per capita than middle and poor peasants. ...The first Chinese land reform was inegalitarian not by accident but by design. Its purpose, as set out in the 1950 Agrarian Reform Law, was to safeguard the rich peasant economy. It was feared that egalitarianism might lead the rich peasants to side with the landlords (as they had done in parts of China before 1947) and perhaps undermine the very process of rural revolution; it would certainly have de-motivated China’s most dynamic and entrepreneurial rural class."
    Nonetheless, the available Chinese evidence from the 1950s suggests that in counties where land redistribution was more extensive, agricultural growth was slower compared to counties where the redistribution was more limited. The division of large peasant farms among the rural population led to a decrease in land productivity and exacerbated the challenges associated with coordinating irrigation efforts. In essence, the idea that an impoverished peasantry could lead the modernization of rural China was little more than a hopeful vision during the 1950s. Preserving the wealthy peasant economy was far from ideal, primarily because it hindered the development of irrigation networks and mechanization. It was these considerations that drove the shift towards introduction of mutual aid teams(see Article 29 ) and collectivization after 1955. Nevertheless, this approach was preferable to banking on the impoverished peasantry, especially in some prosperous regions, where ensuring a minimum income for rural poor individuals would not have necessarily increased their capacity for work and might have even led to reduced labour intensity.

    Wei (2010). Page 4 "…in the Chinese feudal society, as termed in Chinese official historiography, the tenants were not always obedient in accepting the exploitation of the landlords. They had been trying all means to keep as much land output as possible and pay the landlords as little as possible. Delay, repetitive and endless delay in rent payment, petty theft before harvest, and even organised open resistance in paying rents were the tactics used by peasants. Therefore, very often quite a large number of landlords fail to collect more than fifty percent of the land output as previously agreed with their tenants." [↩] [Cite]
    Keong (1967). Page 11 [↩] [Cite]
    Grad (2001). Page 48 [↩] [Cite]
    Bays (1969). Page 28 [↩] [Cite]
    Sautin (2020). Page 179 [↩] [Cite]
    Huang (1995). Page 117 [Cite]
    Su (2016) states "In the actual implementation of land reform policies, however, many of those who made a living from interest on loans, rich peasants, and affluent middle-income peasants were mistakenly labeled as members of the “exploiter class” for having engaged in lending at interest, and were thus mistakenly accorded the status of landlords or other classes, and consequently subject to persecution. For example, twelve households who made a living from interest on loans in Yihe Township 义和乡, Yingcheng County 应城县 were struggled against, had all debts owed to them cancelled, and had all their property confiscated.12 The result of these actions was that rural citizens came to believe that lending was the primary form of feudal exploitation, that lending was “illegal” and “unreasonable,” and that it was not an error to renege on debts." Pages 240-241 [↩] [Cite]
    Guo (2015). Page 101 [Cite]
    Kung (2012) remarks However, within the realm of land reform, the significance of a class-based approach extended beyond simple political categorization, as its inherently win-lose dynamic required a clear identification of those who would benefit and, conversely, those who would suffer. While the demarcation of certain social segments was primarily political—such as revolutionary cadres and counter-revolutionaries—most delineations were likely far more complex, involving factors beyond mere politics for the majority of the groups involved. Page 484 Page [↩] [Cite]
    An (2015). Pages 355-356 [↩] [Cite]
    Heilmann (2008). Page 10 [↩] [Cite]
    Liu (2021). Page 16 [Cite]
    "Wealthy farmers will help productivity increase and will supply towns with goods… The new wealthy farmers are only beginning to appear and should not be curbed… If we try ordering capitalism to stop, it will get us nowhere. On the contrary, we shall make things worse, because millions of peasants will turn against our regime.201" Liu Shaoqi January 1950 cited in Hou (2010) Page 178 [↩] [Cite]
    Johnson (1983). Pages 102-103 [↩] [Cite]
    Johnson (1983). Page 110 [↩] [Cite]
    Shue (1988). Pages 132-133 [↩] [Cite]
    Luo (2022). Pages 89-95 [Cite]
      30-05-1949 Instructions on the Method of Solving the Cadre Issue
    Perry (2021) remarks "However, Land Reform work teams organized in 1951 under the auspices of so-called “democratic parties” (minzhu dangpai 民主党派) in Shanghai actively recruited a substantial number of Christians with the promise that their faith would not present a problem. According to a summary report, Christian team members proved especially enthusiastic practitioners of Mao’s “mass line” because they regarded poor peasants as the natural focus of religious compassion." Page 78 [↩] [Cite]
    Wang (2007). Page 22
    He argues "One of the purposes of such widespread resort to force was to prevent any resistance. It was perceived as the only way to abolish formerly legitimate rules and principles. As a consequence, all political meetings, all sessions during which victims exposed their grievances did not rely merely on the invocation of new arguments and categories, rather words were followed by violence and terror. The target of the revolution, which originally was to overthrow a specific political and social system, thus came to focus on a particular group of persons in each village." Page 26 [Cite]
    Li (2019) argues violence played an essential role in this ceremony. In 1951, the central government strongly criticized the "tendency of peaceful Land Reform" occurring in Hechuan County, located in the South Chongqing area. According to supervisors from the central government, in order to prevent violent incidents during the Land Reform, the Land Reform Law stipulated that cadres would be investigated if they mistreated landlords. However, under the protection of the law, "some landlords deliberately dressed poorly to feign inability to pay compensation and showed no fear of the peasants or government holding them accountable. This emboldened the adversaries and tarnished CCP’s reputation. Naturally, the Land Reform in Hechuan County failed to reflect genuine popular momentum. After reviewing the report, Deng Xiaoping and other leaders of the Southwest Bureau concluded that what was happening in Hechuan County constituted "the tendency of peaceful Land Reform," which local governments should avoid. Pages 204-205 [↩] [Cite]
    Heilmann (2008). Page 10 [↩] [Cite]
    See for example RMRB 13-02-1950 Eight Hundred Professors and Students from Beijing Participate in Suburban Land Reform Enthusiastically Help Peasants Turn Over and Transform Themselves [↩]
    See for example RMRB 05-06-1951 Lin Yaohua (Sociologist and Anthropologist) Agrarian reform is extensive and practical education - My experience of agrarian reform work and RMRB 07-04-1951 Zheng Linzhuang (agricultural economy professor) Two lessons learned from visiting the land reform and RMRB 02-04-1951 The Tianjin Land Reform Visiting Group. Some understandings after our visit to the Land Reform work teams.
    RMRB 06-04-1951 The United Front Work Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China entertained visiting professors returning to Beijing from land reform. The article states: "The United Front Work Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China held a tea party on the 4th to entertain Peking University, Tsinghua University, Normal University, Yenching University, etc. All the members of the three land reform tour groups organized by some professors in the school, including East China, Central South, and Northwest, returned to Beijing. Professors Wu Jingchao, Zheng Tianting, Lou Bangyan, Zhu Guangqian, Bian Zhilin, etc. from various universities present gave warm speeches. From their personal experience in the land reform, they believed that participating in the land reform would be of great benefit to the ideological transformation of intellectuals. They hope to join the land reform task force in the new district after this fall. At the meeting, the professors reported that the peasants who turned over from all over the country urgently needed to learn culture, science, and health knowledge, and hoped that science, medical workers, and literary and artistic workers could go to the countryside to work" [↩]
    Liu (2021). Page 36.
    See also Part 3 [↩] [Cite]
    DeMare (2012). Page 111 [↩] [Cite]
    Wu (2014). Pages 12-13 [↩] [Cite]
    Feng (2004). Page 222 [↩] [Cite]
    Ash (2006). Page 5 [Cite]
    "The amount of land available for redistribution was limited. Nationally, it was claimed that 700 million mou of land were redistributed to 300 million peasants, an average of two and one third mou per head, or a little over a third of an acre. [119] The variation between provinces was great – from ten mou in mountainous Shensi, to between one and three mou in south Shensi, Hunan, Hupeh and Honan, and between 0.7 and three mou in east China (Shantung, Kiangsu, Chekiang, Anwhei). 120" Harris (1978) [↩] [Cite]
    Gao (2007). Page 21 [Cite]
    Liu (2019) " usually showed little interest in the theory of class struggle, still viewing their poverty as personal issues instead of class conflict....Middle farmers were indifferent because they were supposed to neither lose nor obtain any land according to the official policies. The considerations of tenant farmers were varied: some did not see any necessity of land reform because they had already rented enough land from landlords; others feared that land reform would harm their interest by confiscating their leased land as the property of landlords. In spite of different concerns, however, most farmers held a wait-and-see attitude toward the movement." Page 38 [↩] [Cite]
    Wu (2014). cites "In late 1951, the historian Tan Qixiang 谭其骧was a member of a land reform work team. He admitted in his diary that 'In the past days the work was difficult. The masses’ hatred towards landlords was not intense enough. They hate local bullies and slackers instead. There are minor grievances among the masses, and the target of bitterness-speaking was very often not landlords.23" Page 7 [↩] [Cite]
    Liu (2019). Pages 217-218 [↩] [Cite]
    Shue (1976). Pages 108-109 [Cite]
    Su (2016) writes " the Northeast from the end of land reforms in 1948 until 1950, very few new rich peasants were created as the rural economy recovered. From 1951 to 1952, the new rich peasant economy began to grow as economic rejuvenation trended toward growth. From 1953 to 1954, there was a slowing to the creation of new rich peasants. Of course, even within the Northeast, conditions from province to province varied widely. The summary of a survey report issued by the CCP Northeast Bureau Rural Work Department in December 1953 indicates conditions in 1953: “There are slightly fewer new rich peasants in Northern Manchuria than in 1952, but slightly more in the Southern Manchuria Special Production Zone.”9" [↩] [Cite]
    Perry (2019). Page 550 [↩] [Cite]
    DeMare (2019). Page 161 He continues "...have estimated that it is possible that as many as 2 million died as a result of Mao’s land revolution.8 To this accounting, historians must now consider the problem of sexual assault, long ignored by the party. While this issue demands further investigation, at the moment it seems sadly reasonable to assume that sexual assault was just as common as the killing of class enemies in China’s rural revolution." Page 162 [↩] [Cite]
    Yuan (1995). "Overall, Fujian, Guangdong, and Zhejiang comprise a region with a most diversified dialect system.37 Within each subsystem of a dialect region, effective oral communication is almost impossible. Islands of dialects also exist within each dialect subsystem, which further complicate communication among people. Southern dialect areas have core zones, where a dominant dialect-speaking population is most concentrated, and peripheries, where the boundaries of the dialects overlap with other neighboring counties." Page 19 [↩] [Cite]
    Hou (2008). Pages 14-15 [↩] [Cite]
    Liu (2019). Page 229 [↩] [Cite]
    Li (2013). Page 168 [↩] [Cite]
    Cheng (2006). Page 32[↩] [Cite]
    Wong (1974). Page 6 [↩] [Cite]
    Gao (2007). Page 21 [↩] [Cite]
    Bays (1969). Page 32 [↩] [Cite]
    Potter (1990). Page 39 [Cite]
    On July 6, 1952, Tao Zhu (newly appointed Party secretary) at the expanded regional bureau conference states: "Guangdong’s party apparatus is severely impure. A lot of party members come from landlord or rich peasant families; they may be adequate for fighting against Japan and Chiang Kai-shek [the Nationalists], but now that they have to fight against their families, they have all come out of the woodwork to vociferously support the landlord class. Why did the Center decide on relying Southbound cadres and PLA cadres to work in Guangdong [for land reform]? This is because they harbor deep-seated hatred for the landlord class and are of solid political character due to their revolutionary training. And this is precisely what the current Guangdong cadres lack." Cited in Luo Page 103 (2022). [↩] [Cite]
    Bramall (2000). Page 50 [↩] [Cite]

     00-10-1933 How to differentiate the classes in the rural areas
     04-05-1946 The Central Committee Directive Concerning the Land Problem
     10-10-1947 Outline of China's Land Law
      01-04-1948 Mao Zedong Speech at a conference of cadres in the shansi-suiyuan liberated area
    Directive of the GAC on handling suburban agricultural land problems in the old liberated areas. January 13, 1950.
    Land reform regulations of Honan Province. January 20, 1950.
     28-02-1950 Directive of the GAC on the land reform and collection of public grains in the new liberated areas.
     14-06-1950 Liu Shaoqi Report on the question of agrarian reform

     30-06-1950 Decisions concerning the differentiation of class status in the countryside
    General rules governing the organization of peasant associations. July 15, 1950.
    General rules governing the organization of people’s tribunals. July 20, 1950.
    Measures governing the handling of debt disputes in the villages of new areas. October 20, 1950.
    Regulations governing land reforms in suburban areas. November 21, 1950.
    Provisional regulations governing rent reduction in the Southwest Area. March 10, 1950.
    Eight disciplines of the East China Military and Administrative Council regarding the cadres engaged in land reform work. July 22, 1950.
    Provisional regulations governing the punishment of illegal landlords in East China. October 18, 1950.
    Some provisions of the Central-South Military and Administrative Council concerning the measures for the implementation of the Agrarian Reform Law. November 2, 1950.
    Directive of the Land Reform Committee of the Central-South Military and Administrative Council on the training of work squads engaged in land reform. November 2, 1950.
     10-11-1950 Suburban Land Reform Regulation
     18-02-1951 Main points of the resolution adopted at the enlarged meeting of the PB of the CC of the CCP
     07-03-1951 Supplementary Provisions on the Classification of Rural Classes
     10-10-1953 Chen Yun Esteblishing state monopoly of the purchase and marketing of grain
     13-10-1953 Chen Yun Measures to ensure a sufficient supply of cooking oil

    Chapter 4 of Common Program