SINCE Mao Tse-tung's rise to leadership in the early 1930's, "land reform" has been the principal feature of the Chinese Communist Party line. It is the factor most stressed by the Communists themselves; it is the aspect of Mao's program most discussed abroad. Yet although few foreigners entertain any longer the notion that the Chinese Communists are "mere agrarian reformers," and though it is apparent that the agrarian policy of the Chinese Communists can be understood only when viewed within the framework of the total Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist ideology, misconceptions about the objectives of "land reform" are still widespread.
It is said in particular that Mao's program is primarily designed as a measure to win support for the new régime. Land in China, the theory runs, has been concentrated in the hands of predatory landlords who exacted exorbitant rents from their oppressed tenants. Agrarian discontent was thus gnawing at the vitals of the old order. By setting out to remedy this situation, the Communists won the peasantry to their banners. By promising free land to all, they "broke open the peasant's soul and released a flood of mass passion" (to borrow an eloquent passage) which swelled the waters of war and revolution and swept Chiang Kaishek's régime away.
The corollary of this thesis is that Mao's agrarian program is a genuine attempt to improve the living standard of the masses. Many people in China barely subsist (so the argument runs), and at times they do not even do that: less than 10 percent of the people own more than 80 percent of the arable land.[i] But the Communists, unlike the Nationalists, have in mind the welfare of the suffering people. They are determined to alleviate their hard lot. Redistribution of land will put an end to payments to the landlords, and then another series of measures will lay the foundation of a prosperous rural life. The conclusion is that the welfare of the peasants is the objective of the Communists' program and the