A Very Very Short History of the CCP (5): The Age of Mao—The Brand-New China

Part 5 – The Age of Mao: The Brand-New China

The time was October 1st, 1949. The place was the iconic Tiananmen Square Tower, the symbol of the dynastic supremacy. There, Mao proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China to the entire world.

The nation cheered. My mother recalled the moment when she listened to the announcement from the broadcast in Xi‘an, more than 1,000 kilometers away. People were ecstatic. Decades of war finally ended. China was united under this new Party promising a new China that would be independent, strong, democratic and prosperous.

As Mao’s famous statement went, “the Chinese people are finally on their feet”. The history would prove that from that day on, the Chinese were brought down to their knees. They anticipated an era of peace, unity, and rebuilding. But they were gravely mistaken.

The CCP did not waste a minute in reshaping China in its image. One of the first large scale campaigns was the Land Reform.

“Free land for everyone” had been CCP’s slogan that had attracted millions of peasants to join and support its revolution. Now their time had finally arrived. The poor peasants were going to be given the land they had been fighting for through the promised Land Reform.

A rational person would expect the land reform to be carried out by administrative order: the government would confiscate the land from the rich and then redistribute it to the poor peasants. Well, that would be too simple. And that would miss the real purpose of the Land Reform.

Yes, the poor peasants would get the land. But they would have to fight for it, if necessary, kill for it.

The Land Reform became the campaign to implement systematic political identities, or a new caste system. This would be the foundation of the new Communist China.

The peasantry was to be divided into five categories: landlords, rich peasants, middle class peasants, lower middle-class peasants, and proletariats (or landless peasants). Landlords and rich peasants were castigated as the enemy class called Class Enemy. The other three categories were the allies of the revolution.

There were official guidelines on how to categorize the peasantry. For example, a landlord was defined as someone who owned land but did not work on the land with income solely coming from rent. In reality, the definition was random and landlord could be anyone who had a little more than his neighbors. In some impoverished areas, a person who owned two woks was identified as a landlord. Their land and properties were confiscated and redistributed.

Being labelled a landlord or a rich peasant also meant that one had to endure the public trials known as struggle sessions where the poor peasants were organized to condemn the evil of the class enemies. The enemies were humiliated, many were tortured and then executed. It was estimated that up to 2 million land-owning class were killed, the largest classicide in history. The classicide refers to a deliberate and systematic killing of a social class. The crime of these class enemies was their wealth, even if it meant a person who was just one wok ahead of his fellow villagers.

Now the poor peasants had the stolen land in their possession as well as blood on their hands. They would have no choice but loyally following the CCP. And that was the plan.

These peasants had no idea that their newly assigned free land would be taken back by the state in just a few years. It is always true that nothing is free after all!

The CCP’s land reform was replicated in urban areas soon afterwards. Properties of the rich was taken and given to the poor. Now everyone was assigned a brand-new identity. The identity would determine whether you were the ally or the enemy of the new regime. The identity would be hereditary and passed on to the future generations. And the identity would be a required essential personal information to be filled out in all government forms and documents.

In 1951, the CCP launched yet another campaign. This one was to crack down counterrevolutionaries. It was called ZhenFan in Chinese. Who were the counterrevolutionaries? They were supposedly the KMT functionaries accused of trying to undermine the new government. In reality, it could be anyone. Quotas were given out. Evidence was manufactured in order to fulfil the quotas. The CCP admitted that about 5 million were executed. Among them were CCP spies who were send by the CCP to infiltrate the KMT government. The excuse was that these people could no longer be trusted. Do you still remember how many CCP members were killed by the KMT during the first United Front? 5,000! Hardly a fraction of the 5 million. Those were lucky enough to be spared of execution were sent to labor camps to undergo thought reform.

More former KMT personnels lost their lives in this campaign than the total in the Civil War. The father of one of my uncle’s wife was executed because he was a mayor of a small town under the KMT. The CCP was the only regime that killed more people in peace time than during the war.

Between 1955 and 1957, the CCP launched yet another campaign to eliminate hidden counter-revolutionaries called Sufan in Chinese. What was the difference between ZhenFan and SuFan? The target of the former was the non-CCP individuals, while the latter was those within the Party. The goal was to purge Party members who were regarded as disloyal to the regime in order to purify the Party. Around 214,000 people were arrested and 53,000 executed!

Simultaneously, the CCP also launched many other political campaigns. One such campaign was to bring the church under its thumb and sever its ties with the rest of the Christian community. It was called “Three Self Patriotic Movement” referring to self-governing, self-supporting and self- evangelizing.” Many churches were closed, never to open again. And Christians were forced to abandon their faith. The policy has remained in place till today. Other faith communities suffered from the same fate. Abolition of religion has always been the main goal of Communism as indicated in the Communist Manifesto.

In 1949, the CCP made it its policy to “transform intellectuals” into the “socialist new man”. It is called “Intellectual Thought Remolding Campaign”. The goal was to eradicate individualism and free thinking to remold one’s mind in accordance with the Party through the process of studying Marxist ideology, criticism and self-criticism. Criticism was euphemism of denunciation or condemnation.

It was typical that a professor or teacher had to go through repeated criticism and self-criticism sessions until the participants accepted that their self-criticism to be sincere and complete before ending the torment.

Government-mandated brainwashing would become a feature in CCP’s China.

The “Intellectual Thought Remolding Campaign” was connected with CCP’s other campaigns. The CCP understood the important role of the education system. K to 12 and higher education had to undergo complete transformation. Teachers and professors were required to take training in Communist ideology and passed the vigorous examinations before being allowed to go back to the classrooms. Textbooks, especially history textbooks were carefully revised and rewritten. Schools and universities would now become government schools, not for education, but for indoctrination.

One important event during this time was the Korea War in which the CCP sent troops, labelled as the Volunteer Army, to support the North Korean regime. An estimated 460,000 troops perished. That was a small price to pay because Korean War gained the CCP a lot of prestige, especially inside China. It now unabashedly claimed that it had defeated the American Imperialism.

As the bloody Land Reform drew to a closure in 1953, the CCP started its first campaign for a planned economy by implementing the policy of government-controlled grain procurement in the countryside and rationing policy in city people. The CCP’s policy exploited peasants more than the landlords ever had done. This policy lasted until the 1980s and it was responsible for keeping the peasants perpetually in poverty and a state of starvation.

You may have felt campaign fatigue at this point. Well, this was just the beginning. More campaigns were to come. And the worst was yet to come!