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From Commune to Capitalism: How China's Peasants Lost Collective Farming and Gained Urban Poverty

From Commune to Capitalism: How China’s Peasants Lost Collective Farming and Gained Urban Poverty

In the early 1980s, China undertook a massive reform that dismantled its socialist rural collectives and divided the land among millions of small peasant families. Known as the decollectivization campaign, it is one of the most significant reforms in China's transition to a market economy. From the beginning, the official Chinese accounts, and many academic writings, uncritically portray this campaign as a huge success, both for the peasants and the economy as a whole. This mainstream history argues that the rural communes, suffering from inefficiency, greatly improved agricultural productivity under the decollectivization reform. It also describes how the peasants, due to their dissatisfaction with the rural regime, spontaneously organized and collectively dismantled the collective system. A closer examination suggests a much different and more nuanced story. By combining historical archives, field work, and critical statistical examinations, From Commune to Capitalism argues that the decollectivization campaign was neither a bottom-up, spontaneous peasant movement, nor necessarily efficiency-improving.  | more…

China’s Grain Production

A Decade of Consecutive Growth or Stagnation?

China’s official statistics showed that the country’s grain production declined from 512 to 431 million tons between 1998 and 2003. However, according to the Chinese government, since 2004 it has achieved “ten years of consecutive growth” in grain production. According to the official statistics, China’s grain production reached 602 million tons in 2013, nearly 40 percent above the 2003 level.… While the official statistics claim grain production has grown rapidly, China’s surging imports of cereals and soybean suggest that its grain production has struggled to catch up with demand.… This article argues that China’s actual grain production levels may be substantially lower than the officially reported levels; in fact, grain production has stagnated since the late 1990s. | more…

The Political Economy of Decollectivization in China

Decollectivization of China’s rural economy in the early 1980s was one of the most significant aspects of the country’s transition to a capitalist economy. Deng Xiaoping praised it as an “innovation,” and its significance to the overall capitalist-oriented “reform” process surely cannot be overstated. The Chinese government has repeatedly referred to the supposed economic benefits of decollectivization as having “greatly increased the incentives to millions of peasants.” Nevertheless, the political-economic implications of decollectivization have always been highly ambiguous, and questionable at best. Individual or small groups of peasants were frequently portrayed in mainstream accounts as political stars for initiating the process, but this served to obscure the deep resistance to decollectivization in many locales. Moreover, the deeper causes and consequences of the agrarian reform are downplayed in most writings, leaving the impression that the rural reform was in the main politically neutral. | more…