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.
Fig. 27. 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. ), 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.
Land reform started in 1927, and this stage ended in 1931. The GMD government started reducing rent without any confiscation. 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. The third stage from August 1937 to May 1946, rent reduction and confiscation of land from national traitors (pro Japanese). The fourth stage, from May 1946 to October 1947, redistribution of land ownership. 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.

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.
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.
The  Agrarian Reform law defined the objectives of land reform as it was to be carried out in the ‘new liberated areas’. 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"
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.
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."

Fig. 27. Chart of policy and implementation structure of the Land Reform
Wong (1974). Page 10
Between 1946 and 1952 about 300.000 CCP cadres were involved in land reform. 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 27.1 1) 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 27.1 2) 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 27.1 3)
Fig. 27. A Model of the Process of Mobilization of Collective Violence during Land Reform
Javed (2022). Page 35

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. By 1952, 44% of the arable land in China had been redistributed to the poor during the Communist Party's 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. "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."
Fig. 27.2 1949–1952 Cultivated Land Area, Grain Cultivation Area and Cotton Cultivation
Wen (2021). Page 118
Area by Region (in million mu)

Fig. 27.3 Food-crop acreage, Production and Productivity
Chao (1957). Page 122
Acreage: 1.000 Production: 1.000 metric tons Yield: 1bs per acre

Fig. 27.4 Production, Acreage, and Productivity of industrial crops
Chao (1957). Page 123
Acreage: 1.000 Production: 1.000 metric tons Yield: 1bs per acre
Fig. 27.5 State aid to agriculture 1940-1954
Hsu (1982). Page 647
Share of total state aid to agriculture in total state expenditures
Share of state investment in agriculture in total state capital investment
In 1952, after 2 years of the promulgation of the agrarian reform law, more than 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.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

Land reform

Fig. 27. 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
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. 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. 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. Page 32 Bays 1969 [Cite] Potter (1990) mentions 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.
Fig. 27. Social Structure before 1949 by Class Status and Moral Status
Javed (2022). Page 140
Fig. 27. Social Structure in the Early 1950s by Class Status and Moral Status
Javed (2022). Page 140

"Through a radio program ‘Agricultural Science’ (Nongye Keji Zhishi), new ‘scientific’ farming techniques (like chemical fertilizers or close-planting methods) reached local cadres. The listening station conscientiously copied down the agriculture knowledge relevant to their county and printed it in a small paper, or sent the information directly to the villages and cooperatives. Sometimes they gathered the agricultural cooperatives’ cadres for a big meeting to distribute the new ‘scientific’ techniques to the attendees.97 " "Also, it seemed, early land reform development brought with it experts in agricultural development who taught Hainanese farmers how to change their methods and even their crops in order to make better use of their territories. The scale of this operation was unprecedented in the economic relationship between Hainan and the mainland, and plans for growing rubber trees were realized as soon as March of 1951, when nearly 6000 hectares of undeveloped land were planted with rubber trees.427"page 308 Murray (2006) [Cite]
Fig. 27. 1949–1954 Mechanization 1949-1954
Crook (1988). Page 41

Bays (1969). Page 28 [↩] [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]
Wong (1974). Page 6 [↩] [Cite]
Alekna (2020). Page 267 [↩] [Cite]
Johnson (1983). Pages 102-103 [↩] [Cite]
Johnson (1983). Page 110 [↩] [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]
Feng (2004). Page 222 [↩] [Cite]
Gao (2007) Page 21 [↩] [Cite]
Gao (2007) Page 21 [↩] [Cite]
Potter (1990) Page 39 [↩] [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
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.
Directive of the GAC pertaining to land reforms and the collection of the public grain contribution in the new liberated areas. February 24, 1950.
 14-06-1950 Liu Shaoqi Report on the question of agrarian reform
General rules governing the organization of peasant associations. July 15, 1950.
General rules governing the organization of people’s tribunals. July 20, 1950.
Decisions of the GAC on the differentia-tion of class status in the countryside. August 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.
 18-02-1951 Main points of the resolution adopted at the enlarged meeting of the PB of the CC of the CCP
 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