The Social Revolution
Planning the New Society

Socialist Realism poster showing Chinese people working toward a bright future with the words (in Chinese) "We must grasp the revolution, promote production, promote work, promote combat readiness, and do better in all aspects of work"
Stamp commemorating the fifty year period from 1919-1959
With the first phase of land reform complete, the economic base of the bourgeoisie broken, and the Korean War over, the CCP was free in 1953 to develop an integrated plan for the nation’s economic development. The model adopted was that of the Soviet Union, where state-controlled industrial production in a sequence of five-year plans was believed to have been responsible for the nation’s emergence as a world-class power in the 1930s, with the ability to withstand and repulse the full force of Germany’s attack in World War II. That victory in turn allowed the USSR greatly to expand its influence in Europe at war’s end, despite the United States’ efforts to the contrary. (SMC, 484)
Poster showing steel production with the caption "We devote our greatest strength to socialism" (1954)
[T]he First Five-Year Plan achieved a dramatic increase in industrial production across a broad sector of goods (see table below). The plan was designed to cover the years from 1953 to 1957 ... [but most] of its targets had already been fulfilled by the end of 1956. ...
Gross Output
value in millions of 1952 yuan
Actual as
% of Plan
% of total
Workers in a train factory
Physical Output
in million metric tons [mmt] and thousand metric tons [tmt]
Actual as
% of Plan
% of total
Coal (mmt)68.5113130115190
Steel Ingot (mmt)1.354.125.35129.8396.3
Machine Tools (units)13,73412,72028,000220.1203.9
Trucks (units)04,0007,500187.5
Bicycles (thousand units)805551,174211.51467.5
(cf. SMC, 486)
Stamp commemorating the fifty year period from 1919-1959
Poster showing "Investment Distribution for the First Five Year Plan" (1956)
The government had prepared the economy for the five-year plan by curbing inflation, which was achieved by 1952 despite the pressures for military production brought on by the Korean War. ...
The state produced a balanced budget by ruthlessly controlling government spending and reorganizing the tax system to raise rates on urban dwellers. Particularly striking here was the reduction in the percentage of the budget that was allocated to the government’s own administration, and the effective reduction of military expenses. ...
People purchasing government bonds with the caption "To make the nation rich and strong, and the people happy"
The government met its budgetary deficits not by issuing new notes — as the Guomindang had — or by borrowing large sums from powerful creditors, but by sale of government bonds and the encouragement of “contributions,” stimulated by mass patriotic campaigns. (SMC, 485-8)
Stamp commemorating the fifty year period from 1919-1959
Propaganda Poster for Mutual Aid Teams
Socializing Agriculture
Once the first land-reform drives had broken the landlords, the state began methodically to group the peasantry into forms of cooperative labor. The first stage was to encourage peasants to join mutual-aid teams, which built on the social consciousness developed in land reform by showing the heightened productivity that could be obtained by pooling certain quantities of labor power, tools, and draft animals. (SMC, 490)
Posters showing the "good points of cooperatives"
Posters (left and right) showing the "good points of cooperatives"
Photo of a mutual aid team
Peasants of a mutual-aid team in Shahe County, Hebei Province
Posters showing the "good points of cooperatives"
In 1952 and 1953, the government tentatively experimented with bonding peasant workers from mutual-aid teams into cooperative units of thirty to fifty households. Land as well as labor was pooled in these cooperatives, even though each peasant family kept its title to the plots it contributed. ... At the end of each year, after the government procurement quotas had been met and some money set aside for investment in the cooperative, the balance was divided between a “land share” based on the acreage contributed to the cooperative by each family and a “labor share” based on the daily amount of work each family performed. This was only a semisocialist arrangement, since richer peasants, by contributing more land, also gained a greater reward, for which reason these were termed “lower-stage cooperatives.” (SMC, 491)
Poster of a Higher Stage Cooperative with the caption "Agricultural cooperativization is the socialist course that makes everybody prosperous" (1956)
By late 1955, however, after extensive propaganda campaigns and careful experimentation in target areas, the state began to whittle away at the land share, and increase the percentage that went into the labor share. ... These higher-stage cooperatives were organized on a much larger scale, often including 200 to 300 households. They thus exceeded the size of most traditional rural villages, and demanded more full-time administrators and party representatives. By 1956 this shift was well under way, and the lower-stage cooperatives began to shrink in number as the higher-stage cooperatives gained (see table below). At the same time, the government dropped its emphasis on mutual-aid teams, which then ceased to be a significant factor in rural life.
Mutual Aid

6-7 households

Lower Stage

30-50 households

Higher Stage

up to 300 households

 End of Fall
 Year End




 End of Jan.
  End of July 
  Year End 




(cf. SMC, 492)
Peasants, however, still technically held title to the land they contributed to the cooperatives, and they were also allowed to keep private plots for their own use, which further preserved a sense of individual ownership and gave them scope for their own entrepreneurial skills. ... The resulting surge in private production began to alarm Mao Zedong and others in the government who feared the resolidification of the traditional two- or three-class system in the countryside, in which a new generation of enriched peasantry might begin to rise at the expense of their less able, or fortunate, or ruthless fellows. ... There was a paradox in the making, and how the government responded to the increasing success of private production would be of crucial importance to the next stage in the history of the People’s Republic. (SMC, 491-3)
Why was Mao so concerned about private land ownership
and the sale of produce on the open market?
Poster showing an open-air market with the caption "Goods have been delivered in the cooperative"
Were there potential dangers of eliminating all land ownership
and all opportunities to engage in entrepreneurial activity?
Stamp commemorating the fifty year period from 1919-1959
Poster of dancing women with the caption "Let a hundred flowers bloom in a blaze of color"

During the first years of the People’s Republic, the intellectuals of China struggled to find a satisfactory position under the new regime. ... Education remained a time-consuming and costly process, and most intellectuals continued to come from families that had made or inherited money from landholdings or business. Those with staff positions in the government bureaucracy, or who worked in the teaching or legal professions, had inevitably had extensive contacts with, or been employed by, the Guomindang. Those in universities and the medical and scientific professions had often obtained their advanced degrees overseas or been taught by Westerners in China.
       Since such backgrounds were now considered “feudal,” “reactionary,” “comprador,” or “capitalist,” it was incumbent on the intellectuals to show their loyalty to the CCP. Most were ready to make the effort to help the new regime because they had become sick of the inefficiencies of the old China and had lost any faith that the Guomindang could bring enduring, constructive change. The CCP’s promise that even Guomindang officials might stay on at their jobs had been reassuring. (SMC, 505-6)
Mao shaking hands with Ba Jin, author of The Family (Jia)
Image of a Confucian in traditional garbDuring the early stages of the First Five-Year Plan, Mao Zedong began to see that intellectuals — writers as well as scientists and engineers — of all political persuasions would be needed if there were to be a surge in China’s productive capacities. ... Cadres were told that they were wrong to “take the ability to grasp Marxist-Leninism as the sole criterion on which to base their judgments.” Intellectuals who “are capable of working honestly and of knowing their work” must be encouraged.
       Yet when writers went too far in following up the logic of these remarks they met with ferocious opposition. ... A curious situation now developed in which China’s leadership became bitterly divided over how to deal with its own demoralized intellectuals. Of the wide spectrum of positions on the matter, two polar views stood out. One favored continuing the united-front alliance of the CCP with the intellectuals, arguing that their skills were desperately needed in the drive to achieve the First Five-Year Plan and in the transition to collectivized agriculture, and that their loyalty could ultimately be trusted even if they did criticize the party. The other held that the unity of the CCP was paramount, that the CCP had led the revolution and could not now be criticized from outside without fatal effects on party effectiveness and morale.
The poem that began the Hundred Flowers Movement: "Let a hundred flowers bloom, Let a hundred schools of thought contend" (written in Mao's own hand)
The tortuous course of what came to be called the Hundred Flowers movement emerged slowly from these political divisions. ... In a speech he delivered on May 2 to a closed session of party leaders, Mao elaborated on the idea of “letting a hundred flowers bloom” in the field of culture, and “a hundred schools of thought contend” in the field of science. (SMC, 507-9)
Mao delivering the Hundred Flowers speech
Mao had to use all his influence to get a full Hundred Flowers campaign going. In a free-wheeling and often utopian-sounding speech of February 1957, delivered to a large group of intellectual and Communist leaders, Mao tried to instill the idea of flexibility and openness into the minds of his captive audience, in sharp contrast to what had become the party’s more authoritarian mode — one which he himself had helped to create. ... Only in late April of 1957, after months of pressure against foot-dragging party secretaries around the country, did the full weight of the press and other propaganda organs swing in favor of the campaign. It was now couched in the rhetoric of a full rectification movement, in which intellectuals were encouraged to speak out against abuses within the party. ... The language of the campaign directive, however, tried to reassure cadres that they would be gently treated. This was to be a campaign for unity that would bind all in common progress. It would be, said Mao,
 a movement of ideological education carried out seriously, yet as gently as a breeze or a mild rain. It should be a campaign of criticism and self-criticism carried to the proper extent. Meetings should be limited to small-sized discussion meetings or group meetings. Comradely heart-to-heart talks in the form of conversations, namely exchange of views between individuals, should be used more and large meetings of criticism or ‘struggle’ should not be held. (SMC, 510)
Stamp commemorating the fifty year period from 1919-1959
Lu Dingyi
If we want our country to be prosperous and strong, we must, besides consolidating the people’s state power, developing our economy and education and strengthening our national defense, have a flourishing art, literature and science. That is essential.
       If we want art, literature and science to flourish, we must apply a policy of letting flowers of many kinds blossom, letting diverse schools of thought contend.
Chinese Opera actors
Literature and art can never really flourish if only one flower blooms alone, no matter how beautiful that flower may be. Take the theatre, an example which readily comes to mind these days. Some years back there were still people who set their face against Peking opera. Then the Party decided to apply the policy summed up in the words “let flowers of many kinds blossom side by side, weed through the old to let the new emerge” to the theatre. Everybody can see now how right it was to do so, and the notable results it led to. Thanks to free competition and the fact that the various kinds of drama now all learn from one another, our theatre has made rapid progress.
Map of the Warring States period with images of Confucius, Han Fei, Chuangzi and Laozi
In the field of science, we have historical experience to draw on. During the period of the Spring and Autumn Annals (722-481 B.C.) and of the Warring States (403-221 B.C.) more than two thousand years ago, many schools of thought vied with each other for supremacy. That was a golden age in the intellectual development of China. History shows that unless independent thinking and free discussion are encouraged, academic life stagnates. And conversely, when they are encouraged, academic growth speeds up. (DC, 399)
Professors Speak Out
Chang Po-sheng & Huang Chen-lu

June 10, 1957
Chang Po-sheng and Huang Chen-lu at a “contention” meeting of the faculty members of the Shenyang Normal College on June 10, jointly made a long speech lasting about three hours. ... The central problem brought up in the joint speech by these two men was “doing away with the absolute leadership of the Party.”
       “Doing away with the absolute leadership of the Party,” said Huang Chen-lu, “is aimed at strengthening the Party leadership and making the Party a vanguard. ... Before the liberation the Party enjoyed high prestige, maintaining intimate connections with the people and uniting with the people, and there were no such contradictions as exist today. Since the founding of the Republic, particularly in the last one or two years, the Party has become superior to the people and has assumed privileges, praising itself for its ‘greatness, glory and correctness’ and placing itself above the state, above the people. For this reason, Party prestige is falling day by day. More and more persons with impure motives join the Party. They join the Party because they can win glory and acquire power, influence and money. ... The Communist Party has 12,000,000 members, less than 2 per cent of the total population. The 600 million people are to become the obedient subjects of these 2 per cent of people. What sort of principle is this! The absolute leadership of the Party must be done away with. The privilege of Party members must be done away with!”…
       “If this state of affairs is to be changed, a system of general election campaigns should be put into effect alongside the abolition of the absolute leadership of the Party. ... The Communist Party, if it really represents the people, will not be kicked out; if the Communist Party is kicked out, it means it no longer represents the people. Is it pitiable to have such a Party kicked out?” (
DC, 404-6)
Stamp commemorating the fifty year period from 1919-1959
Large crowd gathered for the Anti-Rightest Campaign
Book on the Anti-Rightist CampaignThe party secretaries in at least nine of China’s provinces had never backed the Rectification Campaign, and many others were doubtless only reluctant participants. Their backlash began in June. They were supported by those in Peking who had always opposed the campaign but had been temporarily overruled by Mao. Realizing that the tide was now going against him, Mao swung to the side of the hard-liners. He altered the text of “Contradictions” so that it read as if the promised intellectual freedoms were to be used only if they contributed to the strengthening of socialism, and this revised version was published and widely disseminated. It now appeared that the speech was a censure of intellectuals, rather than the encouragement of public criticisms that Mao had originally intended it to be. In July, an intensive propaganda assault against critics of the party was mounted in all major newspapers across the country, and the CCP announced the start of the “antirightist campaign.” ... By the end of the year [1957], over 300,000 intellectuals had been branded rightists, a label that effectively ruined their careers in China. Many were sent to labor camps or to jail, others to the countryside not just to experience life on the land for a year, but into what was essentially a punitive exile that might last for life. ... The blooming of the Hundred Flowers had ended with a vengeance, leaving China poised for a new era of sharp revolutionary struggle. (SMC, 512-3)
Urban "intellectuals" (a man and a woman) who have been "sent down" to the countryside to work with the peasants