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Essay on Land Reform in China

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The rise of the communist party in China led to massive changes in the ways in which land distribution and management was handled. This sample essay, created by one Ultius' world-class writers, discusses land reform in China in the post-takeover period, and focuses heavily on an author's perspective on what occurred during the communist takeover of China. 

The Nature of Land Reform & Material Wealth Re-Distribution

Throughout William Hinton’s documentary, Fanshen: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village, the author extensively detailed how the process of land reform worked in a single village in northern China. Given the context of war, overthrown social classes and the communist party, this land reform experience was a serious endeavor that lasted many years. In the later 1940’s and early 1950’s, Hinton documented his experience and commented on topics related to peasantry, and relationships with the communist party in a post Marxist world.

The politics and hardships of Fanshen

Interestingly enough, Hinton utilized numerous anecdotes and actual interviews with locals in order to build a rich picture of what land reform was like for most of the citizens of the Long Bow village in northern China. The author’s commentary was focused on describing the political conditions that led to some of the problems and issues that land reform also brought. While land reform in Long Bow sought to end feudalism and redistribute material wealth to the peasantry, politics and interactions with the Communist Party of China complicated matters significantly.

Organizational structure

Before addressing the intricate details of Long Bow land reform and the course of events that took place, it is important to:

  1. Review the historical context of the situation and how the political conditions affected it.
  2. The nature of wealth and feudalism will be discussed in order to show that landlords were the primary victims of the movement.
  3. Evidence from peasants will be reviewed as well.
  4. The nature of land ownership and paying rent will be regarded as an exploitative process that was in dire need of change.
  5. Evidence will show that the Draft Agrarian Law was implemented according to a system that still valued political favor and favoritism as opposed to true distribution to the peasantry; consequently, material wealth was not divided up as originally planned.
  6. High expectations from the Communist Party of China will be analyzed with respect to how various people were treated and utilized in the land reform process.

The unique nature of commitment and change required by all people working on the project will also be reviewed. 

Historical context of Chinese land reform

In the wake of the Communist Revolution in China and the resulting war, leader Mao Tse-tung sought to redistribute material wealth back to the peasantry. This meant that there needed to be a massive overthrow of the gentry landlords that were dictating the livelihood of the people. In the course of the late 1940’s, the government helped build a culture of people that were intent on addressing the exploitation of peasants while giving them their land and a stake in the new China. However, there was also serious hardship, starvation and political turmoil as the ruling party sought to constantly purify its beliefs and purge those that did not live up to its standards. 

Overthrowing feudalism

Hinton examined the way in which landlords were treated and why it was justified for them to be stripped of their material wealth. In 1946, the Communist party led a campaign that resulted in a famous meeting in Li Village Gulch. Major arguments were brought against landlords that severely mistreated and raped women while placing financial duress on the tenants. Hinton’s documentary

“also catalogued the ways in which the landlords cheated when loans were given out or rents paid” (Hinton 129).

Not only were the landlords acting unjustly towards the population, but the people did not have a means of defending themselves. They were poor, uneducated and subject to living in atrocious conditions while the landlords became rich off of their backs. These actions justified the overthrow of the feudal system that dominated the Long Bow village and surrounding areas. 

Nature of land ownership

The nature of land ownership was seen as a truly evil means of treating people. In most cases that were explored by Hinton, all landlords had to admit total guilt of their actions, whether good or bad. For instance, there were instances when landlords were not found to be unjust. One tenant remarked that

“when I worked for the landlord he fed me, at the end of the year he paid me” (Hinton 129).

Even in positive circumstances, land ownership was still deemed as being indicative of abuse and mistreatment. However, there were also instances that made clear points regarding the evils of land ownership by the gentry. One elderly man that was interviewed recounted his life story of working on a piece of land and then:

“[losing] it to a landlord through default on a small debt” which resulted in “famine… [and] wandering many years as beggars” (Hinton 254).

Clearly, there was a case of land ownership as being the core problem that the Chinese peasantry in Long Bow faced. The overthrow of this system was an integral part of the plan. However, in order for justice to actualize, the distribution of the land also had to be implemented and executed correctly. 

Land ownership as exploitation

The first step of the plan to eliminate rent and identify who the culprits were. With the established premise that “rent itself is exploitation,” Hinton commented that the “double reduction” policy of reducing costs to tenants was executed (Hinton 130). According to the plan that was set, this was intended to rectify the damages in the short term while the land was redistributed. Moreover, those with material wealth were singled out and forced to own up to their actions in the public eye. For instance: 

members of the Communist Party of China were expected to draw a firm line between themselves and the gentry whom they had vowed to expropriate” (Hinton 363).

The material wealth that land ownership was related to was ultimately an evil that needed to be solved through severe punishment and treatment of land owners. The firm line that was drawn between peasants and land owners was indicative of the vision that Mao Tse-tung had for returning the wealth to the people. 

The effects of politics and the Communist party on land reform

The Communist party required strict adherence to their policies with the help of talented and willing people. Hinton commented that the success of land reform and actualization of Mao Tse-tung’s vision:

required commitment, but to succeed in this work was something else again. Success depended on many factors: on one’s grasp of a complex situation, on one’s ability to analyze and organize, on the validity of the policies to be carried out” (Hinton 263).

Unfortunately, the peasantry was faced with many poor and uneducated people that did not have the capacity to coordinate and execute the plan that was set for land distribution. When individuals from other parts of the country were brought in, they were also expected to adhere to the peasants-first mentality.

Reform failings for the lower class

The communist party still vowed that the primary interest group would be the people that were historically mistreated by landowners and the upper tier of society. However, when things went awry and plans were not executed, punishment was common. For instance, the Conference of Luchen showcased an example where failed land reform was dealt with:

“land reform in the area under its jurisdiction had been seriously compromised, if not aborted” (Hinton 264).

The means by which this was dealt with also entailed having people give up their credibility and accept overwhelming blame. If a person refused to do this, they lost their grace within the Communist party with little chance of restoring it. Hinton notes:

“a few who stubbornly refused to criticize themselves or justified their past wrong-doing were expelled from the party” (Hinton 264).

Already, it is clear that there were political interests that were formidable. The commitment and loyalty to the communist party was the only means that peasantry had to getting land and achieving some benefits from the reform. Those who did not adhere to it were only going to face a worse situation. 

Class disparity 

As the primary interest of the land reform was the peasantry and poverty, the other classes were left at odds. Mainly, outsiders who were brought in to do the work had to adopt peasantry values and come to terms with erroneous actions in their past. This meant either submitting to the new order or giving up the advantages gained from being in a different tier of the social sphere. Even then, this proved to be a difficult endeavor. For instance, Professor Hsu, an intellectual brought in to the village to aid the process,

“had never known physical labor in any form” and was “at a loss when face to face with peasants” (Hinton 265).

Clearly, a major challenge existed when it came to blending diverse people together. The outsiders that were brought in were given a crash course on peasantry so that they could serve peasants justice with the land reform process. This entailed losing a conception of their material wealth and submitting to a new thought process when it came to fairness, justice and the state of people living below them.

The effect on the upper class

Hinton was clear in outlining how upper class individuals were on a tight wire when it came to addressing their material wealth and then abandoning it. To exemplify, outsiders who were brought in had to adapt while the existing:

“persons with upper-class backgrounds had to give up all attachment to their pasts and take a firm stand with the workers and peasants” (Hinton 267).

Since many of those upper-class individuals had to make a paradigm shift in their thought process, it caused problems and did not seem just in many respects. Simply avoiding the education and income disparity was not an option as wealthy individuals:

“had to rethink their lives from the very beginning, re-examine all their values, and rededicate themselves to a cause that gave them no personal advantages whatsoever” (Hinton 268).

In this sense, the distribution of material wealth was posited as being an egalitarian, fair and just process for the peasantry. The role of the Communist Party of China was to enforce these new values and punish those that did not abide by it.  

Interest groups and efficacy 

The actual process of land distribution relied heavily on the execution by the military and people in charge. This created problems as the actual material wealth was not evenly divided among people that were intended to receive it. In effect, land distribution was based on a complex system that was riddled with inequalities that land reform did not address and created a situation not unlike what is experienced in the United States with the rapidly impoverished middle class. For instance, Hinton lamented in the latter portion of his documentary that

“politics rather than class had decided the outcome then” (Hinton 270).

Many soldiers and high members of the Communist Party of China were given precedence over the peasants. There was not only a clear violation of the Draft Agrarian Law, but peasantry was publicly glorified while this injustice was going on. One example is article six of the law that outlined how

“property will be distributed according to the number of people in the family” (Hinton 271).

However, many village members who had more family members were not given their equal share of land or resources. The primacy of interest groups and political advantages were very abundant during the land reform process. 

Discussion

In summation, the very people who helped overthrow the landowners were the ones who were short-ended when it came to land distribution in many cases. Plans were not implemented correctly and there was a clear problem when it came to organizing how the villages would transition to being autonomous and taken care of fairly. Prominent party members and other individuals still found ways to undermine the peasantry while glorifying their position and social class in the public spectrum. This did entice the people to join the cause and work hard to follow through with their part of the plan. However, various interests and political circumstances could not be avoided as the material distribution of wealth was not done as planned as reflected in the current Chinese economy.

Conclusion

We have seen that the overthrow of feudalism was a major part of justifying why landowners were the culprits:

  • Gentry and landowners were seen as the evil owners who exploited the peasantry in an unjust means.
  • While there was evidence of both just and unjust land owners, they were all treated fairly equally in the eyes of the Communist Party of China and peasantry.
  • The nature of land ownership was decided as being a wholly negative thing that needed to be managed with respect to the interests of the peasantry.
  • Land reform was carried out by some peasants and outsiders brought in to manage parts of it.

The Communist Party did their part in addressing challenges while purging those that did not adhere to its ideology and accept blame for any actions:

  • Upper class individuals also had to give up their life positions and change their attitudes towards peasantry and workers.
  • The same was true for intellectuals and students assigned to the project in Long Bow.

The income and education disparity between the people resulted in the prosperity of interest groups and an undermined peasant class that was short-handed by the very Agrarian policies in which they believed. 

Works Cited

Hinton, William, and Fred Magdoff. Fanshen: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village. 2 ed. New York City: Monthly Review Press, 2008. Print.

 
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Ultius, Inc. "Essay on Land Reform in China." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. Ultius Blog, 17 Nov. 2013. https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/essay-on-land-reform-in-china.html

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Ultius, Inc. "Essay on Land Reform in China." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. November 17, 2013. https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/essay-on-land-reform-in-china.html.

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Ultius, Inc. "Essay on Land Reform in China." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. November 17, 2013. https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/essay-on-land-reform-in-china.html.

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