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 have enabled the Chinese people to utilize it. The banks of the famous Yangtze River essentially became the scene of one of the first known, established civilizations, and along with this establishment, farming became the major form of subsistence.
The Chinese Communist Party was originally established in 1921 by a small group of people looking to expand Marxism. It was originally too small to have any kind of effect with the Chinese Nationalist Party in charge, so, what they did was get Chinese Communist Party officials elected to the Nationalist Party so that they could change things from the inside.
There were subsequently three Civil Revolution Periods between 1922 and 1949 wherein CCP membership and influence increased dramatically. Finally, on October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong became ruler of the People’s Republic of China and modern Chinese Communism was born.
Mao was and is still to this day, regarded as one of the most revolutionary and visionary persons in Chinese history. The majority of the Chinese people still hold him in high regard and believe that it was his policies, both economic and military, that led China to become the up and coming super power that it is today. One of his major visions was to take China from being solely a farming and agricultural nation and turn it into an economic force that could compete in the world market. One of the ways he achieved that was by gaining support from not just urban Chinese but also with the rural peasants. His Marxist / Leninist ideals reached out to them and provided a voice for them. Alternately, Mao is also known for causing the deaths of millions of Chinese people through the policies that he enforced. The people of China are well aware of this tragedy, however, most are willing to accept it and look mainly at his accomplishments.
Throughout its history, however, China has been renowned for their expansive land and the difficulty that went along with creating policies that serve for the peasants as well as the urban dwellers. From the ancient Chinese civilizations that existed until today, the land has and continues to serve as the main foundation of the economy of the country. Given this, it is only evident that the majority of the Chinese, especially in the rural countryside, are farmers and their livelihood is anchored in the land and thus they belong to the peasantry class. This class set-up was established in the early Chinese empires and continued until the Communist victory in 1949.
The Chinese Communist Party
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), like other Communist parties that emerged during the early 20th century, aims initially to overthrow the ruling elite and free the working class from being exploited. The CCP began in 1921 and did not gain much popularity as not many were willing to challenge the main ruling party, which at the time was the Chinese Nationalist Party. However, the CCP did begin to grow when it collaborated with the ruling Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party) or, essentially, when it infiltrated the party by getting party members elected. This move aimed to “transform” the party from the inside rather than challenging it outright (Schwartz, p. 41) and did prove to be greatly successful.
During the late 1920’s, however, General Chiang Kai-shek of the Nationalists began to consolidate their power and was, in turn, able to get rid of the infiltrating Communists from the party. Many of the Communists, including future leader Mao Zedong, escaped and moved to the countryside to regroup. The remaining members expanded into the countryside and increased support allowed them to launch the Long March in 1934. They did this, not only to combat the Nationalist forces but also to consolidate their disenfranchised members and gain even more support.
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 their differences and unite against a common enemy (Payne, 1975). During this period, the party grew from about 40,000 to more than 1 million members. Its military forces went from about 30,000 deep to approximately 1 million strong with an additional 1 million or so militia members (Yang, p. 307). After the war ended in 1945, the CCP and the Chinese Nationalist resumed their battle and, in 1949, the Communists were finally able to drive the Nationalists out of Mainland China. After retreating, the Nationalists proceeded to set up shop in the neighboring island of Taiwan.
The rise, fall and then rise again of the Chinese Communist Party was, in itself, a major character builder for the members because they were able to see how a grassroots movement was able to rise up and take over power in such a large nation. Mao Zedong proved to be the perfect leader for that revolution. It remains pretty ironic, however, that when united, the two parties were able to accomplish great things. Their differences, however, just proved to be too great and created that permanent split.
Interaction between the Chinese Communist Party and the Peasantry
The Communist Party by nature attracts its membership from the working class, or in the case of China, the peasants. During the first years of the Communist Party, they were essentially forced to collaborate with the Nationalists to survive. During this time, the Communists had some difficulties with expanding their foundation primarily because their main ideology was based in the urban workers. They had a hard time reaching out to the agricultural workers in the country.
It was only during Mao’s reign where the peasants became the focus of the Communist movement. This adaptation by the Chinese of a rather foreign ideology of making the peasants and countryside workers the focus of the movement allowed not only the increase of their membership but also the consolidation of the peasantry. This accomplishment proved to be a phenomenon that had never been accomplished in past regimes particularly at such a high success rate. The national exposure of the peasantry enabled them to further assert their rights against ruling parties.
Aside from their doctrine, the Communist movements during war, such as the Long March, allowed them to become extremely popular. The main accomplishment of the Long March was that it showed the peasants their “dedication, bravery and determination” (Yang, p. 233) during times of war and this helped the CCP gain a solid reputation with the rural working class.
The people emulated the Chinese Communist Party after they actively engaged in guerilla warfare against the Japanese during the war. The Nationalists in comparison, were focusing solely on urban areas and the people praised the CCP for their roles on the frontlines. Aside from this, during the Long March, the Communists were able to confiscate property and weapons from local warlords and landlords (Yang, p. 233). This action alone won the Communists a solid following which essentially freed the peasants from the clutches of the ruling class. At the same time, they were able to acquire farming lands that they had been working for years. Also, the Long March served as a propaganda tool in which the CCP gained even more support and participation and solidified victory for the party (Mao 1935).
It can also be said that the war (1937-1945) enabled the Nationalists to concentrate against the Japanese. This strategy caused them to fail in keeping the growth of the Communist party in check. The Communists, in turn, were able to only grow stronger by strengthening their forces in the countryside. With the Japanese concentrating their invasion in the urban areas, the CCP were able to concentrate more in bringing down the warlords and local leaders without worrying about the invaders.
Another feat that the Communists made to attract the peasantry is the introduction of policies that favored them. One of these is the “Eight Points of Attention”, a military doctrine issued by Mao Zedong, which was generally concerned with the respect of civilians during wartime (Uhalley, 1985). In issuing this policy, they showed the peasantry their respect. With the support given to the people in regards to issues with the landlords, they were cast in a favorable light. This greatly helped to win the support of 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). This notion of the Nationalists as seeing the peasants as collaborators and supporters of the Communists, even without proof, only helped to increase support for the CCP by the peasantry. This is particularly evident during the Second Sino-Japanese War in which the military aid from the United States was confiscated by many of the Nationalist military (Bagby, p. 65). The military aid should have helped not only to fight off Japanese resistance but also to help the people, especially the rural working class, during the war.
The Chinese adaptations of policies fitted to the environment of the countryside allowed them to gain the confidence and the trust of the peasants. They were able to take advantage of the war to gain their support, which in turn helped the Chinese Communist Party consolidate, regroup and eventually win against the Nationalists. In 1949, they were able to completely realize their mission, especially in regards to the peasants and land distribution, and reap the benefits of their victory. Mao Zedong was a major influence in the success of the CCP and went on to be the key player in his fight to make China a super power. Now, because of Mao and the struggles of the peasantry, the Communist government sees to it that their main producers are being taken care of so that they can continue to thrive and produce for the betterment of the nation.