FIVE years have now passed since the proclamation of the "People's Republic of China" on October 1, 1949. What have these years meant to the 500,000,000 people who live on the mainland of China? Are the impoverished peasant masses any better off than before? Have the new rulers been more successful in solving China's fundamental problems than their predecessors? If the people are dissatisfied with the Communist régime will they or can they rise in revolt as they have done in the past? How strong is the Moscow-Peking axis, viewed from the angle of political, economic and ideological relations?

These are important questions. Let us try to answer them in the light of the information at hand, both from Communist and non-Communist sources.


When the Communists first came to power China was devastated, hungry and sick. There was a serious shortage of trained personnel, particularly of men experienced in the administration of cities and of technical personnel. To make up for this deficiency, the new rulers had to secure the coöperation of administrators and technicians left behind by the Nationalist régime. The "People's Government," in accordance with Mao Tse-tung's "New Democracy," is "a united front of the four classes--workers, peasants, petty bourgeoisie and national bourgeoisie." Accordingly, prominent non-Communists and Kuomintang turncoats were given high if nominal places in the "Central People's Government." These "democratic personages," as such men are euphemistically called, were invariably seen at Mao's side on ceremonial occasions and at parades. Lesser figures were made members of the Regional and Provincial Governments. The surface appearance of coalition is being kept up to this day. No one doubts that the real power is vested in a handful of top Communist leaders dominated by Mao Tse-tung.

In the cities, in the first months of their power, the Communists carried out a calculated policy of moderation. They were at pains to show that their government, if not of the people and by the people, was at least for the people. Communists were exemplary in behavior. They acted like a body of selfless and truly dedicated men who accepted with great cheerfulness long hours of work and study and a standard of food, clothing and working conditions even lower than that of the general population. Courteous and friendly, they had nothing of the arrogance and inflated self-importance commonly associated with conquerors, which they were. Everything seemed to augur well for a long spell of political mildness. Many observers were led to believe that a humanistic future awaited the Chinese people, who would be spared the harshness of the Soviet régime in Russia.

This was of course wishful thinking. Those who had taken the trouble of looking into the actual conditions in Communist-held areas in the Kiangsi or Yenan days knew that Mao Tse-tung and his cohorts were not given to "bourgeois" softness. A close reader of the official statements would have discovered that the "People's Republic," like its Soviet prototype, is built on violence and force, made worse by the pretense of democracy.

The Communists were in fact not mild. If they had appeared so to the people in Shanghai, Tientsin or Peking, it was because the city dwellers had expected a reign of terror or at least a period of repression marked by arrests and executions to accompany the take-over. When this did not immediately happen, they felt a sense of sudden relief. They were apt to regard everything the Communists did as mild. The Communist propaganda exploited this state of mind by constantly reminding the people that they were both happy and free. The people, for a short time, believed it, so much so indeed that many a banker or industrialist who had fled the country at the time of the "liberation" was lured back.

In rural areas, however, a different state of affairs prevailed. Here, unlike the urban centers, violence was very much in evidence from the start. The "land reform" set in motion immediately after the take-over soon transformed the countryside into a pandemonium. Lands belonging to landlords and rich peasants were forcibly seized and redistributed among poor and landless peasants. Many landlords and rich peasants were put to death through mob action instigated by Communist political workers. The class war, in its most naked form, was on, mounting steadily towards its bloody climax.[i]

The Korean war provided a convenient excuse for tightening up political control and for employing brute force as an instrument of policy. The campaign for the "suppression of counterrevolutionaries" was stepped up in the latter part of 1950. It reached the proportions of a major disaster for the Chinese people in the first six months of 1951. Mass slaughter was the order of the day. It is not possible to know how many people lost their lives in this colossal blood-bath. Mark Tennien, a Catholic priest who had lived in China for a quarter of a century, estimated in 1953, on the basis of official figures, that some 7,000,000 people had been executed and some 20,000,000 imprisoned. The actual situation, according to him, may have been much worse.[ii] In addition, countless landlords, rich peasants, "counter-revolutionaries" and "bandits" were sent to labor camps for "transformation through hard labor." It was reported that in 1952 seven such camps existed in various parts of China. The total number of inmates in them amounted to about 8,000,000, distributed as follows: northeast (Manchuria) 1,000,000; north China 1,700,000; southeast 300,000; central-south 600,000; eastern China 1,800,000; and Sinkiang more than 2,000,000.[iii]

Lo Jui-ching, Minister of Public Safety and the man who had over-all charge of the campaign, hailed the suppression as being "unprecedented in its thoroughness, in its depths of penetration, and in its phenomenal achievements." "This," he said, "is a great victory. It has strengthened the foundation of the People's Democratic Dictatorship. It has heightened the prestige and authority of the Communist Party and the People's Government." He called for continued vigilance.[iv]

At the same time the intellectual class suffered great degradation. University professors, scientists, writers, as well as old civil servants were made to recant their beliefs and convictions; to accuse themselves of sins they had probably never committed; and to expose their friends and associates. Absolution was given only at the price of the most solemn contrition, usually in writing. They had to do this over and over again before it could be accepted as satisfactory. It was always advisable to add each time some sin graver than those admitted before. Self-debasement was the ransom for self-preservation. It served the purpose of the new rulers to break the spirit and destroy the self-esteem of a class of men who had enjoyed a status and exercised an influence unequalled in Chinese society.

But why did these men meekly submit to all this humiliation? Why did they so lightly forswear their past? Where were the Ma Yin-chus and the Wen I-tos who in the Kuomintang days had braved imprisonment and death in defense of academic freedom? The answer is that even martyrs must have an appreciative audience. Martyrdom is possible only when there are people to acclaim it. When the halo of martyrdom is stripped away, martyrs disappear. Under the People's Republic the air is so pervaded with fear that no one dares show sympathy for a "counter-revolutionary." It is no longer glamorous to die a hero's death.

The new régime's easy tolerance of the industrial and commercial classes came to an end with the Korean war. Exorbitant "contributions" were extracted from them in the name of patriotism. The so-called wu-fan or "five-anti" movement, launched in February 1952, was directed against them. This was a war on the five cardinal sins which the majority of the Chinese traders, shop-keepers, bankers and industrialists were supposed to have committed. These included bribery, stealing of government property, cheating the government, obtaining and using economic information from government sources for private speculation, and tax evasion. Every businessman, large or small, had to go through the standard routine of confession, criticism and self-criticism. Confessions thus obtained were then examined by a committee composed of government representatives and employees of the shop, factory or firm in the light of their knowledge of the person in question. Sons, wives and servants were called upon to testify. Alleged offenders were fined, imprisoned, sent to labor camps, or, in serious cases, executed. A considerable number of them committed suicide. Funds diverted to the government were estimated to have amounted to the equivalent of $2,500,000,000 in United States currency.[v] Private enterprise as such has not been wholly wiped out. But it exists only on the sufferance of the government.

Nor has the industrial worker--representing supposedly the leading class of the new society, the proletariat, and exercising an alleged "hegemony"--fared much better. He has been under incessant pressure to increase output. Every standard Soviet technique--"Socialist emulation," "storm attack," etc.--has been introduced to squeeze the greatest possible effort out of the worker. The 12-hour day has become the rule rather than the exception. In state-owned enterprises the working day is often lengthened to 14 and 16 hours in response, we are told, to the "demands" of the workers.[vi] It is said that instead of being docile and passive, the workers are now exhibiting initiative to break production records. But this initiative has been provided far more by the political campaigns which have been carried out from time to time. Exceptionally hard workers receive a good deal of publicity. They are given special privileges, including a trip to Peking to shake the hand of Mao Tse-tung, decorations and medals, and marching at the heads of parades and demonstrations. Real wages, however, have not been increased since 1949. The régime frowns upon high wages, denouncing them as "ultra left," "unrevolutionary" and "dangerous." The workers are told to work harder and harder in order to set an example for other classes, as the leading class in a workers' state should. There is evidence of exhaustion. Sick leaves and incidents have become more frequent.

Thus, within three years of their take-over, the Communists succeeded in eliminating the landlords and rich peasants, reducing the private sector of the Chinese economy to impotence, and keeping labor in subjection. They then proceeded to bring the millions of peasants into line in order to prepare the way for "Socialist transformation."


The land reform program, so-called, was virtually completed by the end of 1952. As a result, China has become exclusively a country of small farmers, each owning a tiny plot of land. There are no official estimates of the sizes of the average farms in various parts of China after the land redistribution. As we know, the ratio of land to man in China was approximately one-half acre of land per farm person. As the acreage of arable land has not increased, this ratio still stands. The land reform has not therefore solved the age-old problem of population over resources. The peasant, after redistribution, continues to live barely above the subsistence level. It is true that he no longer pays rent to the landlord. But he is not better off on that account. The village Communist leader, who has replaced the landlord, is a much harder man to deal with. In the old days the peasant could always ask for postponement in the payment of rents or even outright remission if the harvest had been bad. Now taxes, in kind rather than in cash, must be paid punctually and with no excuses. There is no evidence that, after taxes, his real income has increased. With all the special contributions and drives, he may find his lot considerably worsened.

The redistribution of land is but the initial step. The eventual goal is full collectivization. For, in the Communist view, only a collectivized agriculture can provide the growing population with food and the planned industrial development with capital.

Hand in hand with land redistribution, the Communists established during the 1949-1952 period hundreds of state farms modelled upon the Russian kolkhoz. The larger ones are found in parts of Manchuria; in the coastal regions of the provinces of Hopei, Shantung, Chekiang and Kiangsu; in the areas which had been flooded by the Yellow River during the war; and in the steppes of Sinkiang.[vii] These are provided with tractors and combines. The labor force is drawn from refugee camps, labor camps and unemployed urban workers. The total acreage covered by these farms is still small, amounting to about 0.3 percent of all land under cultivation. But a pattern has been set.

It is not an easy task to collectivize the millions of farmers with their strong sense of private property. The actual process of collectivization consists of several steps. The first is the organization of mutual aid teams. The purpose, it is said, is to provide extra labor to those who need it and to facilitate the introduction of improved farming techniques. Members of a team do not put their produce in a common pool and then divide it according to the value decided upon previously, as in a coöperative, but merely pool their labor. The teams sometimes own common draft animals and implements. According to official figures, in the middle of 1953, two out of every five peasants had joined this form of organization. By this time the lone and independent farmer may well have disappeared altogether. The new society does not look with favor upon the individualistic habits to which he has from time immemorial been addicted.

From mutual aid teams the peasants move into a more advanced stage of development--coöperative farming. Here they pool, not only their labor and farm implements, but also their land. In theory each individual farmer still owns his plot of land. But the land he owns has been integrated into a larger unit, with defined boundaries obliterated and management unified. The management decides on the crops to be planted and the amount of labor each farmer should contribute. The produce is divided on an agreed basis after provision has been made for taxes, seeds and other expenses.

It is not surprising that the farmer has shown great reluctance to enter into this type of coöperative farming. But he has no choice in the matter. The People's Daily, official organ of the government, warned on November 9, 1953:

If the peasants refuse to carry out large-scale production they will be unable to meet the needs of the nation and those of the peasants themselves, thus causing difficulties for national industrial construction and for a portion of the peasants who are desirous of making a living from farming. Failure to unite and carry out large-scale production will not merely make it impossible for the rural people to keep their standards of living on a par with those of the cities. The inherent weakness of the "small-farmer economy," together with the expansion of capitalist fleecing, will inevitably keep many peasants in abject poverty.

Liao Lu-yen, deputy chief of the Agricultural Division of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, in a recent article in Pravda, reveals that at a Central Committee meeting last December it was decided that full collectivization of China's 100,000,000 peasant families is to be essentially completed in less than a decade. The régime plans to collectivize 35 percent of them by 1957.[ix]

The road to collectivization is strewn with difficulties. But, as I wrote three years ago in this journal, "the very size of the obstacles means that the pace will be speeded, and harsher and still harsher measures will be employed." Whatever may be the farmer's reluctance and opposition, the rulers will in the end have their way.

Collectivization does not, of course, guarantee increased production. On the contrary, if the Soviet and Eastern European experience is any guide, a sharp decline in output may take place. If so, the Chinese people may yet face a mass starvation compared with which the Soviet disaster in the 1930's was but a picnic.


The Communists have no intention of having China stagnate in the backwaters of a pre-industrial age. It is not merely because industrialization provides a solution for China's basic problems. It is an article of faith. For without industrialization there can be no real Socialist construction.

With the unrestricted use of forced labor, the Communists have made an efficient job of rehabilitation. Within a relatively short time all railways and highways were repaired, open to traffic, and even extended; dilapidated factories and mines were renovated and put into operation. At the same time most of the private enterprises were brought under state control. By 1952, 80 percent of the heavy industry and 40 percent of the light industry, 60 percent of the steamships plying in home waters, 90 percent of the banking, and practically all imports and exports were in government hands.[x] Having done all this, the authorities were ready to embark on a planned program of industrial development.

On August 17, 1953, Chou En-lai, Premier and Foreign Minister, found himself in Moscow at the head of the first of four Chinese missions which were scheduled to arrive in the Soviet capital before the end of the year. Among the members of these missions were Red China's Minister of Fuel Industries, Deputy Chairman and Secretary-General of the Committee on Finance and Economics, Deputy Minister of Heavy Industries, and Deputy of Communications. It was apparent that important negotiations were on foot. On October 1 Pravda announced that the Chinese Government would shortly put into force its first Five-Year Plan, on the same general pattern as the Soviet Five-Year Plans.

While the target levels for the various sectors of the economy were not announced, Chou En-lai in February 1953 stated that, using 1952 levels as a base of 100, production in 1953 was expected to reach the following levels: pig iron 114, steel ingots 123, coal 100, power 127, petroleum 142, copper 139, lead 149, zinc 154, machine tools 134, caustic soda 131, cement 117, timber 138, cotton yarn 109, cotton cloth 116, paper 106, grain 109, raw cotton 116, and tea 116. The total expenditures in 1953, according to Finance Minister Po I-po in his presentation of the 1953 budget, amounted to the equivalent of about $4.2 billion in U. S. currency.[xi]

The targets have subsequently been revised downward. The reason is not far to seek. China's present industrial base is extremely small. In heavy industry she is inferior to Belgium. To make the Five-Year Plan a success, a tremendous amount of equipment has to be imported. Neither the Soviet Union nor Eastern Europe is in a position to supply all the needs. In a 1953 agreement with Peking, Moscow promised to help China modernize as well as to build a total of 141 industrial plants of all sorts. But this is still insufficient to implement the Plan. A variety of capital equipment has to be obtained elsewhere. The trade control enforced by the free world has made this difficult.

The shortage of technicians is another inhibiting factor. China's potential productiveness is stultified by the thinness of the "non-commissioned ranks"--foremen and mechanics. To some degree the worst gaps are being filled by Russians. Some 15,000 industrial experts have been sent by the Soviet Union to China. Frantic efforts are being made to train technical men in the lower grades. This, however, takes time.

By far the most serious problem the Communist planners have to contend with is how to accumulate sufficient capital to finance the industrialization program. Low interest rate credits to the tune of $60,000,000 to $100,000,000 per annum have been granted by Russia. But this amounts to only about 2.5 percent of the total investment outlays. The rest would have to be made good by taxation. The peasants, who occupy 80 percent of the population, would have to bear the major portion of the burden. The unhappy peasants, already groaning under staggering taxes, would undoubtedly be squeezed to the limit of their endurance and beyond. The Communists can be depended on to do this with their customary resourcefulness and efficiency.

Meanwhile, the authority of the Central People's Government is being centralized "to meet the new situation and the new responsibilities thrust upon it by the large-scale, nationwide planned economic and cultural construction." The greatest single act of centralization took place on June 19 this year. With a stroke of the pen, the Central People's Government abolished all the six Regional Governments established at the beginning of the "liberation." Such powerful figures as Kao Kang (overlord of Manchuria), Lin Piao (Chairman of the Southcentral Political Council), Liu Po-cheng (Chairman of the Southwestern Political Council), and a host of less prominent political and military men were either recalled to the capital or assigned to other posts. At the same time the Party was cleansed of opportunists who had climbed on the bandwagon in great numbers, and of those who had acquired a taste for bourgeois life or whose heads had been turned by power.


The question arises: Does the Soviet Union really want Communist China to industrialize? This raises the larger question of Sino-Soviet relations as a whole.

In this connection it should not be forgotten that the relations between the Chinese Communist Party and the Soviet Union began more than 30 years ago. Indeed, the Chinese Party was created with Soviet money. It may even be said that the Party was not founded by Ch'en Tu-hsiu or Li Ta-chao, but by such Comintern emissaries as Gregory Voitinsky and Maring. The Chinese Communists themselves have always regarded the Soviet Union as their mentor, source of inspiration and trusted friend. The sentimental ties have been strong and have weathered many a storm. Without the Soviet Union, Mao Tse-tung has maintained, the People's Republic of China could never have come into being. No one can deny that there is a great deal of truth in this. Mao Tse-tung might never have captured state power without Soviet help. Certainly he could not have won so quickly. It would be extremely unwise, as so many Western observers have been in the habit of doing, to dismiss the expressions of gratitude and the professions of loyalty by Chinese Communist leaders to the Soviet Union as empty rhetoric and without real depth. The sense of solidarity with Moscow in an international cause has been so systematically and so assiduously inculcated that it goes much deeper than most observers imagine. It is no mere pretense. It is something palpably real.

It was once believed that Maoism, relying as it did on the organized peasantry as a main force rather than on the industrial proletariat, is not true Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism. We know now that it is true Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism applied to semi-colonial countries. There has never been any ideological cleavage between the Kremlin and the Chinese Communists. The land reform in China had been a stratagem, a bait to the peasants, who were attracted by the promise of land for themselves and did not realize until too late that Mao's real objective has always been collectivization. With all the propaganda about the "union of four classes" under the "New Democracy," there is no policy for them except gradual liquidation, which is speeded up whenever the Party is in a confident mood and slowed down whenever serious economic difficulties are encountered. Mao has proved himself a loyal disciple of Lenin and Stalin. Moscow is justly proud of him.

After the war there was a time when the Kremlin was not quite sure that their Chinese adherents could capture power in the foreseeable future. It had counted on a relatively long period of Kuomintang control. Otherwise the looting of Manchurian industry would not have made sense. But as soon as the Chinese Communists showed the will and capacity to win, the Russians spared no effort to make Communist domination a reality. Since the establishment of the People's Republic the Soviet Union has left no stone unturned to make Red China a major World Power. In Korea the combination of Chinese manpower and Russian armament stood off an army headed by the greatest Power on earth. At the recent Geneva Conference Red China scored a diplomatic and moral victory far exceeding its expectations. The Sino-Soviet partnership has paid off handsomely. There is no reason to believe that there has been any rivalry between the two. Under the glaring spotlight of international conferences, they sometimes acted as if they were out of step. But this too is a stratagem, designed to befuddle an already confused world. Those who expect Moscow and Peking to get in each other's way and trip each other up will be disappointed.

In economic relations the scale of Soviet aid has not been large. Still, Red China has received adequate technical assistance, has obtained a sizeable amount of equipment and has acquired some capital in the form of loans and joint-enterprises. There has not been any Chinese complaint of Soviet "niggardliness." Indeed the Chinese Communist leaders have taken pains to explain to their countrymen that Soviet assistance is subject to the restrictions of the Soviet economic system. What it has already done has been done at the expense of its own economy. In any case, no foreign aid, however generous, can of itself make China an industrialized nation. The major part of the burden must be borne by the Chinese themselves. There would be difficulties, of course. But squeamishness is not a part of the Communist creed. Forced-speed economic development necessarily involves sacrifices of the grimmest kind. Here, as elsewhere, the Soviet experience is considered relevant. Millions of people died in Russia during the first Soviet Five-Year Plan. Why not China?

The fact that practically all new developments are concentrated in the north and in areas easily accessible to the Soviet borders testifies to the close economic collaboration that is being contemplated. Old industrial centers along the coast of southeastern China are now as dead as a doornail. They have been stripped of their equipment. On the other hand, Lanchow--that once inaccessible little provincial town in the far west--has become the center of oil and chemical industries, sizzling with life and activity. So also is Taiyuan, the new center of coal mining. Uranium in Sinkiang is being exploited with feverish energy. Manchuria, with its industrial foundation laid by the Japanese and with its rich resources, remains the greatest center of development. All these developments cannot be solely due to the availability of power and raw materials in these regions. There is a real desire to integrate China's industries with those of the Soviet Union.

Sino-Soviet trade has witnessed a phenomenal expansion since 1949. The proportion of mainland China's trade with Russia was claimed to have increased from 26 percent in 1950 to 61 percent in 1951 and 70 percent in 1952. With the adoption of the Five-Year Plan the percentage has further increased. Substantial changes in commodity composition have accompanied the reorientation of China's foreign trade. Consumption goods have practically disappeared from the import list; China now imports only raw materials, mineral oils, chemicals and industrial equipment. Before the Communist take-over China had been a food importing nation; now she exports food. Agricultural production has not appreciably increased. The belt has been tightened.

This trade with Russia has its disadvantages. The transport and carrying costs are high. To the Communists, however, costs mean nothing. The most outstanding characteristic of the Soviet bloc is its close "monolithic" integration. The stationing of Peking's trade commissioners in East Berlin symbolizes the fact that from there to the East China Sea there stretches a closed economic society, trade with any part of which is trade with the bloc itself.

China still needs to trade with the West to make up what the Soviet bloc cannot supply. The amount of this trade is far less spectacular than the technicolor visions conjured up by Communist propaganda. Those who want to drive a wedge between Red China and Soviet Russia by trade would find that in the end they have strengthened rather than weakened Sino-Soviet relations. For the Communist bloc is now planning for a period of many years during which China will be both industrialized and equipped with an arms industry and modernized armed forces, while the Soviet Union improves its internal supplies of consumer goods and food. The bloc needs outside help to make the plan a reality. To ease trade controls is to play right into its hands.


The five years of Communist rule in China can thus be written down as years of betrayal. The democratic rights and freedoms promised by the Communists, the "union of the four classes," and the land reform were decoy programs bearing no relationship to the final objectives. The Communist rulers may be able to carry out an industrialization program more successfully than their predecessors, but at terrible human costs. Since the Chinese people live under a revolutionary totalitarian police régime it is too much to expect them to rise in revolt against their oppressors. It simply is not possible. However, the will to revolt, though smothered, is not dead. It may burst into vehement flame if the opportunity presents itself. At present the régime has been weakened by the disillusionment of its people and the critical economic dislocation. It needs the help of its enemies to forge ahead. Will the Western World oblige?

[i] For a more extended treatment of the Communist land reform, see an article by the writer, "Mao's Stratagem of Land Reform," in Foreign Affairs, July 1951.

[ii] Mark Tennien, "No Secret is Safe." New York: Farrar, Straus & Young, 1952.

[iii] According to a study made by the Secretariat of the Kuomintang on the basis of figures published in the Communist press.

[iv] An article written by Lo Jui-ching on the occasion of the third anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

[v] Various estimates exist. The present figure is based on the estimate made by Shih-yi in his "An Analysis of the Communist Economic Policy," in National Renaissance, Hong Kong, June 1953.

[vi] For example, in an alcohol factory in Harbin the working day was extended to 16 hours (People's Daily, January 21, 1951), in state-owned Tung Kuan Construction works in Anhwei and in a general provision store in Peking to 14 hours (Workers' Daily, August 9, 1952).

[vii] "Communist State Farms and the New Serf System," a study made by the Sixth Division of the Reconstruction Committee of the Kuomintang, Taiwan, 1952.

[ix]The New York Times, August 5, 1954.

[x] "Economic Development of the Mainland of China," Economic Bulletin for Asia and the Far East, v. IV, no. 3, November 1953.

[xi] Robert M. Rosse, "The Working of Communist China's Five Year Plan," Pacific Affairs, March 1954.

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  • C. M. CHANG, former Professor of Government at Nankai University, recently at Lingnan University, Canton
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