10 Years of the “Peoples” Republic

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China and is probably as good a time as any to review the events of the past decade. For ten years the 650 million population of the largest country in the world has gone through an amazing process watched with intense interest by many millions particularly of other oriental people.


China has been somewhat of a mystery to Westerners A land of cheap labour, widespread and constantly recurring famines and civil wars, with a society that seemed in a stale of perpetual arrested development and a written and spoken language that usually proved an effective barrier to understanding.


But in 1949. the Communist Party of China won the civil war against the Nationalist Party and seized control of the reins of government, to the horror of the God-fearing and the respectable. Since then, the sleeping giant that was China seems to have woken up, and hardly a week goes by without this country coming into the news and sometimes making the headlines. But this is a process that has crept up, in typical old-time Chinese style, by stealth and almost without notice, although it has a background of tremendous growth and change.


But many people wonder what the Chinese workers themselves think of living under “communism” and whether, in fact. China really has a new system of society.


What Happened
In Chinese agriculture, which employs more people than any other occupation, the tempo of development has been rapid. There have been great technical improvements in irrigation, in deep ploughing, soil improvement, pest control, use of chemical fertilisers, farm machinery and specialisation in high-yielding crops, such as rice, corn and potatoes. The productivity in rice in 1949 was 1,668 lbs. per acre; by 1958 it had increased to an estimated 3,000 lbs., whilst the productivity in cotton during the same period rose from 143 lbs. to an estimated 300 lbs. per acre. State investment in agriculture rose from U.S.$389 million in 1952 to U.S.$892 million in 1958.


There has also been, it is said, an improvement in the standard of living of the agricultural worker which the government proudly proclaims as one of the ways that Communism works for the benefit of the under-privileged. With the improvements claimed for the Western worker here is usually a snag — things are not always what they seem. So with the Chinese agricultural worker. He has to work nearly twice as many days in the year for his increased standard of living—from 172 days for a full- time agricultural worker (Dr. Lossing Buck’s survey in the 1920’s) to around 300 days at the present time. But this is not all. Through the organisation of the communes (of which more later) about 100 million women in the country districts are said to have been released from household chores to become wage-slaves.


To cure any impression that they may be living in the very lap of luxury, it should be noted that the staple diet of rice, as well us cotton (used for practically all forms of clothing) are still both rationed.


Development of Agrarian Communities
The changes that are going on are not all of a technical nature. In education, for instance, primary enrolment increased from 24 million in 1949 to 86 million (estimated) in 1958. and there has also been a heavy increase in the number of higher standard students of agriculture as well as research workers.


The vast changes have been preceded by widespread social reforms which have removed many obstacles, such as the irrational land system, superstitious practices and the previously inferior position of peasant women. The domination of the landlord-gentry and the power of the patriarchal heads of the village, have been reduced.


There have also been far-reaching changes in the organisation of the countryside. These started with mutual-aid teams whereby the peasants—those die-hard independent individualists were induced to perform the main work on their farms in groups working together. The peasant still owned his own land and the produce from it. This form of organisation was the thin end of the wedge and led to further development. Then followed various forms of farming, such as co-operative producers’ societies and collective farms. In some, the peasants pooled their land and implements and were credited with their value and with their labour. The crops were shared out on that basis. The peasants could withdraw if they wished.


As time went on these organisations developed until the peasant was not much more than a shareholder in a large community farm without the option of withdrawal. These changes, incidentally, eased the task of tax collecting and governmental control.


The Communes
The present form of agrarian organisation is the commune, which the Peking Government have the effrontery to describe as the transition stage from Socialism to Communism. An analysis of the organisation of the communes shows how worthless and misleading is the claim and reminds one of the somewhat parallel claim by the British Labour Party that capitalism plus the reforms they propose makes Socialism.
The commune is now the basic unit for agrarian China and averages from 10,000 to 40,000 members. The commune has centralised control and unified management and engages in all spheres of activity, including industry, agriculture, forestry, credit, public health, communications and military training. Communal kitchens and nurseries release the women for wage-labour. Even private garden plots are taken over along with the peasants’ farms. Payment is purely by wage on a variety of “piece-work plus bonus” system. Thus, almost at a stroke has the peasant of China been converted into a wage-labourer—as much a member of the working-class as any Western man-in- the-street, despite the fact that the government confuses the issue by describing these community sweat-shops as Communism.


The Peking government (reported in The Far Eastern Economic Review, December 4th, 1958), requires each commune member to be “obedient, enthusiastic, overfulfil production quotas, struggle against evil personalities and practices, think progressively and work at least 28 days per month.” What a lot they expect for a handful of rice and a bowl of chop-suey! Moreover, there will only be one employer in the country districts and that will be the commune management. Under these conditions the boss has very much the whip hand and the worker has to jump to it, for if he falls foul of his boss there is no other to offer him a job. In his spare time, military duties are prescribed.


It is in the use of bonuses and rewards that the commune leadership can exert the greatest control. 80 per cent. of the basic wage of each member will be paid him directly, but 20 per cent. will be withheld, to be returned only in the event of outstanding performance. A worker who fails to display the proper “enthusiasm” or is lax or fails to work the requisite number of days, not only loses this 20 per cent. already withheld, but runs the risk of being demoted to a lower wage grade or of having further wages deducted.


According to one commune’s draft regulations “the distribution of income shall be based on the principle of ensuring high speed in expanded production.” While the regulations call for increased wages as the rate of production goes up, the regulations prescribe not only that the rate of wage increase must be slower than the rate of increase in production, but also that when living standards reach the level of “well-to-do middle peasants” the rate of wage increase should be reduced so as to leave more for the development of industry.


The expansion of industry in the past ten years is almost as marked as the changes in agriculture. According to official claims, steel production has increased fifty fold since 1949—from 158,000 tons in 1949 to 8 million tons in 1958. The annual pre-war production of 35 million tons of coal had increased to 270 million tons in 1958; and the reserves are vast. In mid 1958 the Vice-Minister of Geology claimed that China ranks first in the world in reserves of many important minerals and metals. China is now successfully exporting machinery (in addition to many other products) in competition with other capitalist countries.


The working-class standard of living during the ten years under review has certainly been rising, but not so quickly as their output. From this we must except the vast numbers in labour camps whose plight horrified some of the Labour Party M.P.s when they visited China a few years ago. Those victims work at a killing speed in slave conditions.


China is entering the ranks as a great industrial country with all that that implies.

Frank Offord.


To be concluded.