The Chinese Communist Party and the Peasantry
China, with its geographic features, is basically agricultural in nature. The vast Chinese countryside is suitable for farming and throughout history these natural resources enable the Chinese to utilize it. With its famous Yangtze River, the banks in this river became the scene of one of the first known civilizations to be established. And with this establishment, farming was set as one of the main livelihood of the people. From the ancient Chinese civilizations that existed until today, the land serves as one of the main foundations of the economy of the country.
Given this, it is only evident that majority of the Chinese are farmers, in which their livelihood is anchored in the land and thus belonging to the peasantry class. This set-up was established and continued in all the empires that existed in China were the peasants were “bound” to the landlords. This set-up did not change until the Communist victory in 1949.
2. The Chinese Communist Party
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), like other communist parties that emerged during the earlier 20th century aims to overthrow the ruling elite and free the working class from being exploited. The party began in the 1920s and began to grow when it collaborated with the ruling Kuomintang (Nationalist Party). This move aimed to “transform” the said party from the “inside” rather than challenge it outright (Schwartz, p. 41). During the late 1920s, General Chiang Kai-shek began to consolidate the power of the Nationalist, and in turn, purged the Communists from the Nationalist Party. Many of the Communists escaped and moved to the countryside to regroup, which includes the future leader of the Communists, Mao Zedong. The continuing pursuit to the Communists in the countryside led the remaining members to launch the Long March, from 1934 to 1935 not only to escape Nationalist forces but also to consolidate their scattered members. The invasion of the Japanese forces and the eruption of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) forced the two groups to temporarily set aside differences and unite against a common enemy (Payne, 1975). During this period, the Party grew from about 40,000 to more than one million members and its military forces from about 30,000 to approximately one million in addition to about more than one million militia members (Yang, p. 307). After the war ended in 1945, the two groups resumed their fighting and in 1949, the Communists was finally able to drive the Nationalists out of mainland China and retreated to the island of Taiwan.
3. Interaction between the Chinese Communist Party and the peasantry
The Communist Party by nature attracts its membership from the working class, in which in the case of China, the peasants. During the first years of the Communist Party it was forced to collaborate with the Nationalists to survive. In this time the Communists had some “difficulties” in expanding their base, primarily because their main ideology is based in the urban workers; it did not made an immediate appeal in the country, where the main set-up is agriculture. It was only during the time of Mao Zedong where he and other Communist leaders made the peasantry the focus of the Communist movement. This “adaptation” by the Chinese of a “foreign” ideology to fit into their environment and making the peasants the anchor of the Communist movement started not only the increase in their membership but also the consolidation of the peasantry. With the exposure of the peasantry to the “reality” enable them to further assert their rights against the ruling parties.
Aside from the doctrine made by the Communists, “exploits” made by the Communists especially during war made them popular with the populace. One of these is the Long March which showed the peasants their “dedication, bravery and determination” during the conduct of the war and with this helped them gained a good reputation among the peasants. Being seen by the peasants as actively engaging in guerrilla warfare against the Japanese, as compared to the Nationalists who concentrated in the urban areas, they were able to be praised and emulated by the people for being in the frontline. Aside from this, during the march, they were able to confiscate property and weapons from local warlords and landlords (Yang, P. 233). This act alone won the Communists a wide following; freeing the peasants from the clutches of the ruling class and at the same time acquired farming lands which they have been toiling for years. Also, the Long March also served as a propaganda tool in which the war will only end with the utmost participation (and victory) of the Communists (Mao 1935).
It can also be said that the war (1937-1945) enabled the Nationalists to concentrate against the Japanese. This also failed the Nationalists to check the growth of the Communists in the area, being busy repelling the Japanese invasion. The Communists, in turn, being in the countryside, they were able to regroup and strengthen their forces. With the Japanese concentrating their invasion in the urban areas, the Chinese were able more to concentrate in bringing down the warlords and local heads without worrying about the invaders.
Another feat that the Chinese made to attract the peasantry is the introduction of policies that are in their benefit. One of this is the Eight Points of Attention, a military doctrine issued by Mao Zedong. It is generally concerned with the respect of civilians during wartime. (Uhalley, 1985). In issuing this to the members of the Communist forces, they showed to the peasantry their respect and their general behavior in their interaction with the patients. From being cordial to the people to supporting them in their issues against the landlords, this showed them as “respectful” in the rights of the peasants. This greatly helped and won support for the Communists among the rural peasants (Indo-Asian News Service, 2006). The Nationalists, in contrast used terror tactics against suspected Communists through their Secret Police force (Fitzgerald p 106). The notion of the Nationalists as seeing the peasants as collaborators and supporters of the Communists, even without prior proof, swayed the peasants’ support to the Communists. Also, corruption in the Nationalist government can also be seen as a catalyst on the change of support of the peasants. This is evident during the Second Sino-Japanese War in which military aid from the United States were hoarded by many of the nationalist generals (Bagby p. 65). The military aid should have helped not only to repel Japanese attacks but also to help the people, especially the peasantry during the war effort.
The adaptation of policies by the Chinese to fit in the environment of the country enabled them to gain the trust and confidence of the peasants of the country. They were able to “exploit” the war to their advantage to gain the support of the peasants, which in turn helped the party in their consolidation, regrouping and eventually in their victory against the Nationalists. With their victory in 1949, they were able to completely implement their doctrines, especially with regards to the peasants (land redistribution, quotas etc.) which “changed” the peasantry to a more “competitive” part of society. Now being the “anchor” of the country, the Communist government “sees” to it that their main producers are being taken care of, not to mention being given utmost attention to become and continue to produce not only for themselves but also for the country.
Bagby, Wesley Marvin, The Eagle-Dragon Alliance: America’s Relations with China in World War II, University of Delaware Press, 1992, pp.65. (ISBN 0874134188) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuomintang)
Benjamin Yang,From Revolution to Politics: Chinese Communists on the Long MarchWestview 1990, p. 307′ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Communist_Party_of_China)
Fitzgerald, C.P. The Birth of Communist China, Penguin Books, 1964, pp.106. (ISBN 0140206949 / ISBN 9780140206944)( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuomintang)
Mao Tse Tung Ruler of Red China by Robert Payne, p 175 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Communist_Party_of_China
Schwartz, Benjamin, Chinese Communism and the Rise of Mao, Harper & Row (New York: 1951), p. 32-35. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Communist_Party_of_China)
Uhalley, Stephen, (1985). Mao Tse-tung, a critical biography. New Viewpoints Publishing. ISBN 0-531-05363-6. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eight_Points_of_Attention)
Yang, Benjamin (1990). From Revolution to Politics: Chinese Communists on the Long March. Westview Press. pp. 233. ISBN 0-8133-7672-6. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_march)
Cite this The Chinese Communist Party and the Peasantry
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