Socialization was a hallmark of China’s economic strategy from the early 1950s onward, and the collective organization of agriculture was a defining characteristic of China’s rural economy under Mao Zedong. The strong organizational emphasis of farm policy reflected a belief that institutional change was the main determinant of agricultural growth. By 1953, land reform had fundamentally changed the balance of political power, as well as the profile of land ownership, land use, and farm management, in the countryside. However, it had not advanced the cause of socialization. It was, in fact, always the government’s intent that land reform would be merely the first step in a series of institutional changes eventually leading to a fully socialist collective agriculture, to be completed by 1967. The process would take place gradually and in stages, with farmers initially engaging in what were called “lower-level (semisocialist) agricultural-producer cooperatives” until the demonstrated benefits of cooperation encouraged them to voluntarily join fully socialist (“higher-level”) collectives. The underlying economic rationale was that collectivization would bring agriculture more firmly within the remit of planning and strengthen government control over grain, while the larger scale of farming and the mobilizational capacity of the collectives would enhance agricultural efficiency and generate sustained output growth. But thanks to the overwhelming response to Mao’s call for accelerated collectivization (31 July 1955), the original timetable was abandoned, and coercion was increasingly used to force peasants—including those with minimal or nonexistent experience of lower-level cooperatives—into fully socialist collectives. A mere two years later, under a more indigenous strategy of development (the “Great Leap Forward”), another massive institutional upheaval took place, as peasants were incorporated into a new and huge organizational unit (the rural people’s commune), whose remit extended to political as well as economic management. Following the human and economic catastrophe precipitated by the Great Leap, there was a temporary institutional retreat. But the imperative of collective farming soon reemerged and remained intact until decollectivization in the early 1980s. These events have generated a rich literature, much of it written before the post-1978 explosion of data and other materials from China. That so many of these early studies still merit careful reading is testament to the remarkable dedication of authors (e.g., Kenneth Walker, Nicholas Lardy, Chao Kuo-chün) who spent years locating and then immersing themselves in Chinese-language books, journals, and newspapers to an extent that seems inconceivable in the 2020s. Economic issues define the major themes of the literature (e.g., the rationale of institutional change, its impact on yields and output growth, the role of state procurement policies, the implications for urban and rural food consumption). But it has also embraced political-economy dimensions of China’s rural institutional framework, a notable example being Jean Oi’s pathbreaking 1989 study.
There are comparatively few comprehensive studies of agricultural development during the collective era that capture the institutional and other policy dimensions of rural change, as well as the economic impact on the farm sector. Although not primarily economic analysis, MacFarquhar 1974–1997, a monumental three-volume study, is an invaluable source of information and comment on the political economy of rural change between the mid-1950s and mid-1960s. Schurmann 1968 too offers valuable insights into the dynamics of village-level economic organization. Although not a general overview in the conventional sense, Oi 1989 is included here for its analysis of the evolving nature of the relationship between state and farmer in China. Nolan 1988 and Bramall 2009 offer opposing views on the impact of collectivization: the former providing a negative view; the latter, one that is much more positive. Wang 2009 offers a Chinese perspective—not necessarily one that should be regarded as representative—on the role of the various forms of collective farming in China since the early 1950s. Finally, the two ethnographic studies listed here—Chan, et al. 1984 and Friedman, et al. 1991—offer a valuable counterpoint to documentation-based analyses. They provide firsthand accounts of changes in villagers’ lives in two provinces (Guangdong and Hebei) during the collective era, on the basis of in situ fieldwork or interviews (or both) of rural émigrés in Hong Kong. They also highlight continuities in village life carried over from pre-1949 times into the socialist era of China’s development.
Bramall, Chris. Chinese Economic Development. London and New York: Routledge, 2009.
Examines the theoretical case for collective farming and draws on a wide literature and extensive empirical data in order to evaluate its impact during the Mao era. The favorable assessment that emerges is more favorable than that of many scholars (compare with Nolan 1988).
Chan, Anita, Richard Madsen, and Jonathan Unger. Chen Village: The Recent History of a Peasant Community in Mao’s China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.
Based on interviews with rural émigrés living in Hong Kong, highlights the pressures under which farmers lived in one village of southern China, as the institutional fabric of their lives changed between the mid-1960s and the end of the Cultural Revolution.
Friedman, Edward, Paul G. Pickowicz, and Mark Selden. Chinese Village, Socialist State. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991.
Provides a vivid and detailed narrative history of rural change under the impact of socialist development policies, viewed through the prism of a village in Hebei Province. Contains rich material on the economic and human impact of collectivization and the policies of the Great Leap Forward (GLF).
MacFarquhar, Roderick. The Origins of the Cultural Revolution. Vol. 1, Contradictions among the People, 1956–1957. New York: Columbia University Press, 1974.
A valuable source for understanding the challenges facing the farm sector in the wake of the “high tide” of agricultural collectivization.
MacFarquhar, Roderick. The Origins of the Cultural Revolution. 3 vols. New York: Columbia University Press, 1974–1997.
A magisterial study that, although primarily a study of elite politics, offers invaluable insights into the economic dimensions of institutional and structural change.
MacFarquhar, Roderick. The Origins of the Cultural Revolution. Vol. 2, The Great Leap Forward, 1958–1960. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983.
A detailed account of the evolution of the GLF, including the emergence of a new form of agricultural cooperation in the guise of the rural people’s communes. Includes analysis of the disastrous impact of the Leap on agricultural production and food supplies.
MacFarquhar, Roderick. The Origins of the Cultural Revolution. Vol. 3, The Coming of the Cataclysm, 1961–1966. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.
Useful overview of the food crisis facing China in the wake of the collapse of agriculture during the GLF. Traces the response to this crisis in the form of reform of the commune system and the prioritization of agriculture over industry. The extensive bibliography is especially useful.
Nolan, Peter. The Political Economy of Collective Farms: An Analysis of China’s Post-Mao Rural Reforms. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1988.
Although post-1978 agricultural change defines its main thrust, this carefully argued analysis contains a critique of China’s collective farming system. Its negative findings offer a useful counterweight to the more positive conclusion of Bramall 2009.
Oi, Jean. State and Peasant in Contemporary China: The Political Economy of Village Government. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.
Impeccably researched study, based on fieldwork and a wide range of Chinese-language materials, of the changing relationship between state and farmer in China. The analysis, viewed primarily through the prism of the production team, focuses on the struggle between the two parties for control over the division of the harvest. Analysis embraces consideration of impact of early post-1978 farm reforms.
Schurmann, Franz. Ideology and Organization in Communist China. 2d ed., enlarged. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968.
Addresses institutional history of China down to the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution in 1966. A classic work still full of rich insights into the organizational dynamics of economic, political, and social change under Mao. Chapter 7 (“Villages,” pp. 404–500) examines the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’S) attempt to use organization to transform rural society and promote agricultural growth. Also contains useful overview of traditional peasant organization and pre-1949 Kuomintang and CCP farm cooperation initiatives.
Wang Licheng 王立诚. Zhongguo nongye hezuo jianshi (中国农业合作简史). Beijing: Nongye chubanshe, 2009.
Useful but occasionally idiosyncratic treatment of the evolution of the collective system of agriculture in China. Includes sections on early institutional change (mutual aid and early cooperativization), the “high tide” of collectivization, and the establishment of rural people’s communes.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
- 1989 People's Movement
- Agricultural Technologies and Soil Sciences
- Agriculture, Origins of
- Ancestor Worship
- Anti-Japanese War
- Architecture, Chinese
- Assertive Nationalism and China's Core Interests
- Astronomy under Mongol Rule
- Book Publishing and Printing Technologies in Premodern Chi...
- Buddhist Monasticism
- Buddhist Poetry of China
- Budgets and Government Revenues
- Central-Local Relations
- Chiang Kai-shek
- Children’s Culture and Social Studies
- China and Africa
- China and Peacekeeping
- China and the World, 1900-1949
- China's Agricultural Regions
- China’s Soft Power
- China’s West
- Chinese Alchemy
- Chinese Communist Party Since 1949, The
- Chinese Communist Party to 1949, The
- Chinese Diaspora, The
- Chinese Nationalism
- Chinese Script, The
- Christianity in China
- Classical Confucianism
- Collective Agriculture
- Concepts of Authentication in Premodern China
- Confucius Institutes
- Consumer Society
- Contemporary Chinese Art Since 1976
- Criticism, Traditional
- Cross-Strait Relations
- Cultural Revolution
- Daoist Canon
- Deng Xiaoping
- Dialect Groups of the Chinese Language
- Disability Studies
- Drama (Xiqu 戏曲) Performance Arts, Traditional Chinese
- Dream of the Red Chamber
- Early Imperial China
- Economic Reforms, 1978-Present
- Economy, 1895-1949
- Emergence of Modern Banks
- Energy Economics and Climate Change
- Environmental Issues in Contemporary China
- Environmental Issues in Pre-Modern China
- Establishment Intellectuals
- Ethnicity and Minority Nationalities Since 1949
- Ethnicity and the Han
- Examination System, The
- Fall of the Qing, 1840-1912, The
- Falun Gong, The
- Family Relations in Contemporary China
- Fiction and Prose, Modern Chinese
- Film, Chinese Language
- Film in Taiwan
- Financial Sector, The
- Five Classics
- Folk Religion in Contemporary China
- Folklore and Popular Culture
- Foreign Direct Investment in China
- Gender and Work in Contemporary China
- Gender Issues in Traditional China
- Great Leap Forward and the Famine, The
- Guomindang (1912–1949)
- Han Expansion to the South
- Health Care System, The
- Heritage Management
- Heterodox Sects in Premodern China
- Historical Archaeology (Qin and Han)
- Hukou (Household Registration) System, The
- Human Origins in China
- Human Resource Management in China
- Human Rights in China
- Imperialism and China, c. 1800-1949
- Industrialism and Innovation in Republican China
- Innovation Policy in China
- Intellectual Trends in Late Imperial China
- Islam in China
- Journalism and the Press
- Judaism in China
- Labor and Labor Relations
- Landscape Painting
- Language, The Ancient Chinese
- Language Variation in China
- Late Imperial Economy, 960–1895
- Late Maoist Economic Policies
- Law in Late Imperial China
- Law, Traditional Chinese
- Li Bai and Du Fu
- Liang Qichao
- Literati Culture
- Literature Post-Mao, Chinese
- Literature, Pre-Ming Narrative
- Liu, Zongzhou
- Local Elites in Ming-Qing China
- Local Elites in Song-Yuan China
- Management Style in "Chinese Capitalism"
- Mao Zedong
- Marketing System in Pre-Modern China, The
- Marxist Thought in China
- Material Culture
- May Fourth Movement
- Media Representation of Contemporary China, International
- Medicine, Traditional Chinese
- Medieval Economic Revolution
- Middle-Period China
- Migration Under Economic Reform
- Ming and Qing Drama
- Ming Dynasty
- Ming Poetry 1368–1521: Era of Archaism
- Ming Poetry 1522–1644: New Literary Traditions
- Ming-Qing Fiction
- Modern Chinese Drama
- Modernism and Postmodernism in Chinese Literature
- Music in China
- Needham Question, The
- Neolithic Cultures in China
- New Social Classes, 1895–1949
- One Country, Two Systems
- Opium Trade
- Orientalism, China and
- Palace Architecture in Premodern China (Ming-Qing)
- People’s Liberation Army (PLA), The
- Philology and Science in Imperial China
- Poetics, Chinese-Western Comparative
- Poetry, Early Medieval
- Poetry, Traditional Chinese
- Political Art and Posters
- Political Dissent
- Political Thought, Modern Chinese
- Polo, Marco
- Popular Music in the Sinophone World
- Population Dynamics in Pre-Modern China
- Population Structure and Dynamics since 1949
- Porcelain Production
- Post-Collective Agriculture
- Poverty and Living Standards since 1949
- Printing and Book Culture
- Prose, Traditional
- Qi Baishi
- Qing Dynasty up to 1840
- Regional and Global Security, China and
- Religion, Ancient Chinese
- Renminbi, The
- Republican China, 1911-1949
- Revolutionary Literature under Mao
- Rural Society in Contemporary China
- School of Names
- Silk Roads, The
- Sino-Hellenic Studies, Comparative Studies of Early China ...
- Sino-Japanese Relations Since 1945
- Social Welfare in China
- Sociolinguistic Aspects of the Chinese Language
- Su Shi (Su Dongpo)
- Sun Yat-sen and the 1911 Revolution
- Taiping Civil War
- Taiwanese Democracy
- Technology Transfer in China
- Television, Chinese
- Terracotta Warriors, The
- Tertiary Education in Contemporary China
- Texts in Pre-Modern East and South-East Asia, Chinese
- The Economy, 1949–1978
- The Shijing詩經 (Classic of Poetry; Book of Odes)
- Township and Village Enterprises
- Traditional Historiography
- Transnational Chinese Cinemas
- Tribute System, The
- Unequal Treaties and the Treaty Ports, The
- United States-China Relations, 1949-present
- Urban Change and Modernity
- Vernacular Language Movement
- Village Society in the Early Twentieth Century
- Warlords, The
- Water Management
- Women Poets and Authors in Late Imperial China
- Xi, Jinping
- Yan'an and the Revolutionary Base Areas
- Yuan Dynasty
- Yuan Dynasty Poetry
- Zhu Xi