After twenty-eight years of armed struggle, the CCP finally came to power in 1949. Its victory reshaped social relationships in China. Before 1949, social stratification was based mainly on private ownership and occupational grouping. There were property-based classes: a working class, a capitalist class, landlords, etc. and occupation-based strata: middle class professionals, etc.
After the nationalization of the means of production in the 1950s, political status replaced private ownership as a stratifying element. At the same time, occupational ranking emerged as another important factor contributing to social inequality in Mao's China (see Chapter 3). Associated with these post-1949 patterns of social stratification were two important social hierarchies: a caste system based on the pre-1949 class relationships and a class structure based on the post-1949 occupational ranking. 1
The caste hierarchy (i.e., the political status system) had a strong historical root. In this chapter, I first briefly discuss social stratification in the Qing Dynasty ( 1640-1911) and the Republic era of 1912-1949. Next, I review two studies of social stratification and class formation prior to the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. I pay particular attention to Mao Zedong's analysis of social classes in the 1920s. Mao's idea of class formation was practised after 1949 and had great influence on the formation of the family political status system. My discussion of this system is not a lengthy one since it has been a subject of intensive research since the 1970s. I will discuss the post-1949 class structure in Chapter 3.
In imperial China, the state divided the population into four official social strata: scholar-officials, peasants, artisans and merchants. The strata were defined primarily on the basis of occupations rather than ownership of the means of production. 2 Therefore, the categorization did not reflect occupational reality and social inequality accurately.