The main purpose of this study is to provide a comprehensive description and critical analysis of the Chinese commune experiment for the understanding of contemporary China. Preface The Chinese commune system was the most ambitious attempt by any major communist country to implement communism on a nationwide basis. The Chinese leader Mao Zedong was a charismatic and romantic communist revolutionary. In his zeal to accelerate the economic development and the realization of communism in China, he launched the commune system in 1958 against the advice of many of his fellow revolutionary leaders in the Communist Party of China. With his personal popularity with the Chinese people and the communist party's ruthless mobilization campaign, he was able to force hundreds of millions of Chinese peasants to organize into communes within one year's time. The ability of Mao and his party to set up communes throughout China except in minority regions and urban areas, in such a short period of time, is remarkable. Unfortunately for Mao and his party, the commune system soon developed all kinds of difficulties and caused the tragic famine in China from 1959 to 1961.
During this period, an estimated twenty million or more people perished. Even Mao had to admit that the commune system was in trouble. But Mao and his supporters insisted that there was nothing wrong with the commune system in its conception and design. The fault was with the cadres in the communes not properly implementing the policies of Mao. Whether the failure of the commune system was due to its conception or its implementation is controversial. But the commune system was eventually abandoned by China after Deng Xiaoping, China's paramount leader after the death of Mao in 1976, launched his economic reform in the late 1970s. In order to carry out economic reform, China not only abolished the commune system but also discontinued or modified many other communistic policies. Although China still officially subscribes to the theories of communism and claims to be a socialist country, in practice, it has abandoned or revised many of the economic policies of the Mao era. For all practical purposes, China today is more capitalistic than communistic. China maintains that it is practicing "socialism with Chinese characteristics."
It can be argued that the present Chinese economic system can also be called "capitalism with Chinese characteristics." Regardless of the label, China's economic reform has been very successful. China's gross domestic product (GDP) was quadrupled from 1980 to 2000 as Deng projected. Now China is the sixth largest economic power in the world in terms of GDP and the second largest economic power in the world in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP). China's economic growth rate is the fastest in the world in recent years. China has been transformed from a poor agrarian country into a major industrial power. The failure of the Chinese commune experiment has had a profound impact on the world communist movement. Most other communist countries are careful not to repeat China's mistake. After seeing China's successful economic reform by moving away from the radical communist economic policies, they too begin to modify their economic policies after the current Chinese model. Most of them have become more pragmatic than dogmatic. The radical communist policies have lost much of their appeal not only in communist countries but also among communists in non-communist countries.
The main purpose of this book is to examine the Chinese commune experiment from 1959 to 1961 which is the peak period of their commune system. After 1961, the Chinese commune system was gradually modified and eventually abolished when the economic reform was fully implemented in the early 1980s. In this book, I have tried to present a comprehensive description and objective analysis of the Chinese commune experiment. I hope my book can contribute to the understanding of China and communism. I want to thank my wife Norma for her enthusiastic support during the writing of this book. As always, her encouragement and assistance made my work easier and more enjoyable. George P. Jan 2004
Dr. George P Jan is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Toledo in Ohio. He is the author, co-author and editor of 16 books. His most recent book is Understanding Contemporary China. He is also the author of numerous articles, book reviews and professional papers presented at regional, national and international conventions. He has taught at several American and foreign universities including Peking University in China. He has served on editorial boards of professional journals. He is the recipient of many academic honors and research awards. He has lectures to many organizations and groups in the United States and abroad. He has been interviewed by many newspapers, magazines, television, and radio stations.
Foreword; Preface; 1. Background of the Chinese Communes; 2. Structure of the Chinese Commune; 3. Administration of the Chinese Commune; 4. Leadership in the Chinese Commune; 5. Military Regimentation in the Chinese Commune; 6. The Regimentation of Thought in the Chinese Commune; 7. Mass Education in the Chinese Commune; 8. Social Changes in the Chinese Commune; 9. Urban Communes; 10. Failure of the Chinese Commune Experiment; Conclusion; Bibliography; Index