By Pat Welsh, contributor
The communist takeover of China in 1949 saw a significant achievement of a comprehensive government. After the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China (中國人民共和國) on Oct. 1, 1949, the Communist Party (共產黨) expected fighting for a few more years. To their surprise, once Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang (國民黨, KMT) armies were shoved off the mainland, the whole country seemed to accept the communist ascension. Mao Zedong’s People’s Liberation Army (人民解放軍) found themselves able to sweep through the south and southwest fairly easily.
Public sentiment in the cities the first year was one of euphoria. The residents of the cities saw a conquering army of seemingly self-disciplined country lads who appeared to be both helpful and polite. This was in stark contrast to the looting and raping activities of both the warlords and all-too-often corrupt KMT troops. The new government was seen as cleaning things up. The streets and drains were cleared of not only the filth and garbage but also of the petty criminals, prostitutes and beggars. The beggars and those who had been involved in criminal and immoral activities were rounded up and sent for reeducation aimed at teaching them how they can and should become productive members of the new society. This activity was the source of the word “brainwashing” (洗腦).
Events in China moved faster than even the Party anticipated. The Communist Party numbered only about 750,000 members but there was a need to fill over 2,000,000 government posts at all levels. For that reason, the Party allowed most of the former KMT government to remain in their positions, receive salaries and continue their functions. While this was being done, the government abolished foreign privileges, stamped out corruption and mobilized the citizenry into people who repaired public works, spread literacy, repair railroads and steamship lines while controlling diseases.
The first task of the Party was to bring a runaway inflation to an end. Towards this goal, the government took over the banking system in order to control all credit activities and the creation of money. The growing prices of commodities was addressed by setting up nationwide commodity trading associations in each line coupled with assurances made to the public by paying all personnel in market-basket terms. That is, personnel was not paid in money but in basic commodities. This allowed individual salaries to be independent of the ongoing inflation. From this arose a stable basis for commercial activities. Achieving a balance of goods and money allowed the rate of inflation to drop to 15 percent a year by 1954.
Slowing economic progress was the Chinese entry into the Korean War. The war drained the country’s resources and caused over a million casualties. China’s entry into the Korean War was greatly motivated by the arrival of American military units in the early winter of 1950 on several banks of the Yalu River, the boundary line between Korea and China. This American arrival stirred up memories of Japan’s takeover of Korea and the subsequent invasion of Manchuria back in 1931. In any case this war provided a wartime sanction that would allow the Party to organize the populace under the guise of “Resist America, aid Korea” (抗美援朝運動).
The program to transform the economic and social life of the country’s population required the government create an administration trained and ready to carry out the social revolution. The masses were encouraged to study the tenets of the “New Democracy” (新民主主義) and Mao Zedong Thought” (毛澤東思想). These tenets were expected to teach the people to set model roles of conduct. This being achieved, the Party could then proscribe social thought and suppress deviations.
Further measures included the liberation of women from family domination. Towards that end wives were made equal to their husbands in the eyes of the law. Women, once emancipated, could now become full-time salaried workers. Nonetheless, women still remained responsible for the home, meaning that they found themselves lining up after work hours in queues waiting to buy scarce daily necessities.
Further mobilization of China’s population involved initiating a “Three-Antis” (三反運動) and a “Five Antis” campaign (五反運動). Regulations regarding two campaigns were authorized on March 8, 1952 by the Government Administrative Council (政務院), the highest executive organ for state administration at that time. These regulations were then promulgated on March 11 and published the following day in the Party’s Renmin Ribao (人民日報) newspaper.
The “Three Antis” campaign fought the corruption, waste and bureaucratism undertaken by officials in government, industry, schools and the party. The “Five Antis” campaign attacked China’s merchants and industrialists. This campaign targeted bribery, tax evasion, theft of state assets, cheating in matters of labor and materials. Added to this was the suspected stealing of state economic intelligence. These measures enabled the state security apparatus to bring nearly every employer to trial thereby sorting out whom to eliminate and. whom to be allowed to function as government employees.
Two devices made these campaigns possible. First, in 1949, the Party created a new United Front (統一戰線) under the leadership of the People’s Political Consultative Conference (人民政治協商會議), which included both Party and non-Party members. Then the Common Program (共同綱領) was adopted in 1949 that allowed for a policy of gradualism. A mobilization of available talent was made available by including both communist and non-communist personnel in the nation’s ministries. Gradually the growth of communist party personnel would supplant the non-Party officers.
The second device was the creation of a mass campaign that utilized the structure of mass organizations. Labor, youth, women and professional organizations were all enrolled in these mass organizations. This enabled the government to reach the people who lived in cities and remove those of doubtful use or loyalty. Through these organizations, the membership of the Party rose to over 6,000,000 by 1953.
The systematic successes of these campaigns enabled the Communist Party to begin a program of systematic planning and transitions to socialism by the end of 1953.
In 1954 the Communist Party established a new state constitution. This new constitution superseded the Common Program and brought the rapid end of the New Democracy phase. The fundamentals of this constitution was based on the Soviet Constitution of 1936. It strengthened the Government Administrative Council and its 50-odd ministries. The Government Administrative Council mentioned above was renamed as the State Council (國務院).
Coordination between the Party and the government was provided by dual membership. A senior government official was also a member of the Party’s Politburo (政治局). One non-Soviet feature was the establishment of the state chairmanship, held by Mao. This seems to be an echo of the Chinese emperorship of past times. Through this feature, the state cult of Mao seemed to meet the Chinese traditional need for a single authority feature.
Final political power remained firmly concentrated in the Standing Committee (常務委員會) of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Party. Unlike the experience of Chiang, the security police and the military were never allowed to become separate echelons of the government as they had under Stalin or Chiang.
A principle of vertical rule was used as a guideline whereby the various ministries controlled subordinate agencies at the lower levels of government. Meanwhile, horizontal coordination was worked out at each territorial level. At the provincial and county levels, a series of People’s Congresses (人民代表大會) was established. Its members were elected from a single slate of candidates who would be more responsible to higher rather than to lower levels of government.
This echelon of elected candidates headed up the National People’s Congress (中國共產黨全國代表大會) that was to meet from year to year to receive reports and confirm policies. Non-communist personnel were still prominent in it but they had no voting powers. They could only function in discussions of the policies and reports.
Next month, I will cover the movements toward the collectivization of agriculture, industrialization and dealing with China’s educational system.