The structure of social classes and strata in China from 1957-1977

From 1957-1977, under the leadership of Mao Zedong, China went through the movements of correctly handling contradictions among the people - the Anti-Rightest Movement, the “Great Leap Forward,” the people’s commune, the Sino-Soviet Controversy, Nixon’s visit to China, the Lin Biao Incident, Criticizing Deng and Anti-Rightest, and the overthrow of the Gang of Four. In these 20 years, these movements that China experienced were all on a national scale, involving every individual and every family. The country went though ups and downs, and the movements shook the country and shocked the world. Some people say that it was a period of history that is unbearable to recall. It caused both physical and mental suffering, and was so black that it could not be blackened any more. Others say that it was an inevitability of history. It was unavoidable and a period of experiment and exploration, which led to the good results of reform and opening up. So far, there is no consensus view in political and academic circles. In 2008, many conclusions were drawn on the 30 years of reform and opening up. Until the year of 2009, the 60th anniversary of New China, there had not been a decent conclusion. The biggest problem is that there is no fair and correct assessment on how to define and link up the first 30 years and the second 30 years.

From the perspective of class theory these 20 years witnessed exceptionally hítense and frequent class straggle in China. However, it is still unclear which class straggled with which class, and why. A very special phenomenon was that, after the mid-1950s, the Soviet theory that the class structure in socialist societies consists of the working class, the peasantry, and intellectuals was adopted. There was basically no discussion in 20 years, but tacit acceptance. No systematic research on this had ever been undertaken.

The changes of classes and strata in this period can only be judged on the basis of statistical data and information.

Economically, with the First Five-Year Plan of Economic Development being over-fulfilled, the “156 key projects” being successively completed and put into operation, and the enterprises under public-private joint management being turned into state-owned enterprises, industry and commerce under the ownership of the whole people enjoyed unprecedented development. In rural areas, people’s communes were set up, government administration and commune management were integrated, and the system of collective ownership was further developed. There was a time when fanners’ private plots were confiscated, household sideline production was restricted, and ratal markets were closed down. It was once thought to build an absolutely pure public ownership and completely eliminate the private economy. In this process, a highly centralized planned economic system was established in the whole country The state fully controlled the power of allocating all economic resources in urban and rural society. With no doubt, such

Structure of social classes, strata in China 189 measures that violated economic laws were bound to meet resistance. After the failure of the “Great Leap Forward,” three years of economic difficulties ensued. Major readjustments had to be made, including returning fanners’ private plots, permitting household sidelines, reopening rural markets, and reducing the number of basic accounting units. The economy had slightly improved by 1965. In 1966, the 10 years of turmoil began, triggering a national civil war. This was, in essence, another serious class straggle and, in the end, brought the economy to the brink of collapse. However, the pattern of public ownership (the ownership of the whole people and collective ownership) of the means of production and economic resources in society remained unchanged. The system of allocating human, financial, and material resources by the state through the planned economy was not changed. Members of society no longer had the ownership of the means of production, and the vast majority of people relied on the income from distribution according to work to make a living. Employees relied on their salaries from the work units and farmers lived on the work points of the production teams. The differences among the members of society were mainly the differences in social division of labor and occupation. In this sense, class and stratum distinctions among members of society were, indeed, greatly simplified. On the surface, there was some truth in the general classification of the working class, the peasantry, and intellectuals, but “two classes and one stratum” carried too many meanings. How else could there be such complicated, sharp, and continuous class straggles?

As can be seen in Table 15.1, in these 20 years, the GDP tripled, the per capita GDP doubled, and the economic structure changed from a pattern of primary-tertiary-secondary to one of secondary-prirnary-tertiary. The industrial added value increased to 47.1% and the agricultural added value dropped below 30%. In the employment structure, on the other hand, rural labor force still accounted for 74.5%, a drop of 6.7 percentage points in 20 years. After the three years of natural disasters from 1959-1961, in order to cope with the difficulties, the household registration system was introduced, which separated urban and rural administration and strictly restricted fanners’ entry into cities. The urbanization rate fell back to 17.6%, the bifurcated urban-rural economic and social structure unique to China took shape, and urbanization lagged seriously behind industrialization. In the total population of 1977, those who held agricultural registration status accounted for 82.4%, rural labor force accounted for 74.5%, and the social structure in China was still that of an agricultural country

Analyzing on the basis of “two classes and one stratum,” the structure of classes and strata in Chinese society in 1977 was as follows.

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