The structure of social classes and strata before the founding of the People’s Republic of China

In 1926, in his Analysis of the Classes in Chinese Society, Mao Zedong systematically and profoundly explained the situation of social classes and strata in China before the founding of New China. He analyzed the social classes and strata in Old China from the perspective of “distinguishing who are the enemies and who are the friends of the revolution." The situation of social classes and strata in Chinese society then was illustrated in seven aspects.

First, the landlord class and the comprador class.

These two classes represented China’s most backward and most reactionary relations of production. They were the social basis of the imperialists’ rale over China and the object of the Chinese revolution. Mao also pointed out in his article that the classes of big landlords and big compradors in particular always stood on the side of imperialism. They were extreme counter-revolutionaries. Later, the bureaucratic bourgeoisie was mentioned. In the article "The Present Situation and Our Tasks,” Mao Zedong said: “Besides doing away with the special privileges of imperialism in China, the task of the new democratic revolution at home is to abolish exploitation and oppression by the landlord class and the bureaucrat-capitalist class (the big bourgeoisie).”2

No detailed data were released on the number of these classes. In Mao’s article “The Chinese Revolution and the Chinese Communist Party,” there was a piece of data on the landlord class, according to which, rich farmers accounted for 5% of the rural population (together with the landlords accounted for 10% of the rural population). The 5% was only an estimation. In the 1950s, the land reform was carried out nationwide. After the land reform, Jiangsu province published a set of data. Landlords in the province accounted for 2.8% of the total rural households and possessed 20.67% of the total land. Rich farmers accounted for 2.01% of the total households and possessed 6.7%

of the total land. In Dingxian County of Hebei province, landlords accounted for 1.9% of the total rural households and 3.01% of the total population. Rich farmers amounted to 4.43% of the total rural households and 7.07% of the total population.3 Dingxian County was an old liberated area. In the land reform of 1947, more people were designated as landlords and rich farmers. In Zhejiang province, the land reform was carried out from 1952-1953 and not as many were classified into the category of landlords and rich farmers. Most regions in the country carried out the land reform in the early 1950s, so Zhejiang’s data were representative.

Second, the national bourgeoisie.

In his article, Mao Zedong called them the middle bourgeoisie. After the 1860s, modem industries started to emerge in China and the first batch of capitalists came into being. They started new enterprises such as factories, mines, banks, and so on. Most of these people were previously bureaucrats, landlords, or wealthy businessmen. In the beginning, the development was very slow. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century - especially during World War I, when the big powers such as Britain, France, and Germany were caught up in the war - that China’s modem industry and commerce started to develop rapidly. Shanghai, Tianjin, Wuhan, Guangzhou, and other new cities rose abruptly, and a group of national bourgeoisie emerged. The national bourgeoisie represented the capitalist relations of production in Chinese cities. It was a class with ambivalent nature and held an ambivalent attitude towards the Chinese revolution. On the one hand, they were oppressed by imperialism and bound by feudalism. They wanted to strengthen and develop themselves, and had problems with imperialism and feudalism, so they were also forces of the revolution. On the other hand, the national bourgeoisie were weak politically and economically and their own strength was not great. They were previously bureaucrats and landlords, bom in families of bureaucrats and landlords, or inextricably linked with these classes. Their relationship with workers and peasants was one of exploitation and being exploited. This determined their ambivalence. Throughout the new democratic period, they were the vacillating middle elements.

Third, the petty bourgeoisie.

Included in this categoiy were landholding peasants, master handicraftsmen, intellectuals of lower levels - students, primary and secondary school teachers, lower government functionaries, office clerks, small lawyers, and small traders. This class generally possessed a small amount of means of production or had specialized technical knowledge. They worked on their own and did not exploit people. Landholding peasants, master handicraftsmen, and small traders were engaged in small-scale production. Primary and secondary school teachers, small lawyers, doctors, and clerks were freelancers; all of them had the economic status of the petty bourgeoisie. This class had a large number of people and were oppressed by imperialism, feudalism, and the big bourgeoisie. In general, they supported and participated in the revolution, and were good allies of the revolution.

Fourth, the semi-proletariat.

This class consisted of semi-landholding peasants, poor peasants, small handicraftsmen, shop assistants, and the peddlers. Semi-landholding peasants here refer to those who did not possess enough land and had to rent other people’s farmland, or had to sell their own labor and were exploited. They were the people later called the lower middle peasants. Poor peasants were tenants in the countryside. They were the most heavily exploited and led an extremely hard life among the peasants, and were much more likely to accept the revolutionary propaganda. Lower middle peasants and poor peasants accounted for about 70% of the rur al population. The so-called peasant problem was mainly their problem. Small craftsmen (the five types of craftsmen in the countryside), shop assistants, and small peddlers, whose economic status was more or less the same as that of the poor peasants, were also forces of the revolution.

Fifth, the proletariat.

They were industrial workers in modem industries. At that time, they were mainly workers in the railway, mining, shipping, textile, and shipbuilding industries. China’s working class was small. According to Mao Zedong’s estimation, there were about 2 million.4 They were the representatives of China's new productive forces, the most progressive class in modem China, and the leading forces in the revolutionary movement. Their economic status was the lowest. They had nothing but their own hands. They were so cruelly treated by imperialists, warlords, and the bourgeoisie that they were particularly good at fighting. In addition, urban coolies,5 porters, street sweepers, and hired laborers in the countryside also belonged to this category Their economic status was similar to that of industrial workers, but they were not as important in production and were not as concentrated as industrial workers.

Sixth, the lumpen proletariat

Among the unemployed people in cities, many were reduced to having no proper way to earn a living. They had to find improper occupations and became bandits, hooligans, beggars, prostitutes, and vagrants. They led the most precarious existence of all, and tended to form various secret societies. This was a vacillating class. Some of them were easily bought by reactionary forces, but also had the possibility to join the revolution.

Seventh, the peasantry

In this programmatic document. Mao Zedong made a penetrating analysis of the peasantry, which was the overwhelming majority of the population. He did not list and analyze the peasantry separately, but scattered the discussion in several sections. He divided the peasantry into four strata: (1) rich fanners, the bourgeoisie in the countryside; (2) landholding peasants (middle peasants), the petty bourgeoisie in the countryside; (3) semi-landholding peasants and poorpeasants, the semi-proletariat in the countryside; and (4) tenants, the proletariat in the countryside. It was later estimated by Mao Zedong in his article “The Chinese Revolution and the Chinese Communist Party” that the rich farmers and landlords each accounted for 5% of the rural population, the middle peasant

Structure of social classes, strata in China 183 about 20%, and the poor peasants together with tenants about 70% of the rural population.6

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