The People’s Republic
of China (1949 to
The Chinese people have stood up.… Ours will no longer be a nation subject to insult and humiliation,”1 Chairman Mao Zedong proclaimed upon his arrival in Beijing in the autumn of 1949. The Chinese Communist Party had risen to power on three converging currents of public opinion: (1) Chinese nationalism that had been building since the Opium Wars; (2) class resentment, mainly of peasants against landlords; and (3) growing frustration shared by all classes over the corruption, incompetence, and financial collapse of the Nationalist government. As the civil war had begun in earnest in 1947, the Communist Party had changed its tactics in vast stretches of countryside under its control. No longer feeling any need for a united front of all social classes against the Japanese enemy, the Party launched a violent rural revolution.
In the wake of the rapid victories of the People’s Liberation Army, Communist Party work teams now spread over the entire nation, extending to the remotest villages, to organize peasants, recruit leaders, and categorize everyone as poor, middle-class, or rich peasants or as landlords. In public “struggle sessions,” peasants denounced landlords and pressured them to confess their past crimes and give up their land and property. These struggle sessions served to humiliate all the members of the rural upper classes and to destroy the prestige they had enjoyed in the past. Gradually, from 1949 to 1957, all the land in China was “collectivized,” or put under the supervision of cooperatives called “production teams.” Individual families were allowed to keep small plots of land for their own use, though the sum of these “private plots” could not exceed 10 percent of the total land held by the production team, which usually consisted of all the members of one village. The land was worked collectively, and the state took 5 to 10 percent of the grain production as a tax. Each family received a portion of the