PRELUDE TO REVOLUTION
26. The Land Problem
|THE Communists could not hope to overthrow
Chiang Kai-shek without finding a mighty support in the hearts of the people.
Such a support was guaranteed by the land problem.
Early Europeans arriving in China had found agricultural industry, with admitted differences, almost on the same level as it had been several hundred years before in the West. Nevertheless, conditions of land-ownership were already acute. About the time Cromwell was leading army of artisans and peasants against the English Parliament, the whole area of cultivated land within the limits of the Manchu Empire was 130 million acres. With a population of seventy million, the land problem was plainly critical. But within the next three hundred years, while the area of cultivated land was doubling, the population was in creasing over six times! This tremendous overcrowding was made worse by the fact that there was a tendency of public land to become private. Before the 1911 Revolution, Manchurian nobles had already usurped almost all the royal land and after that revolution corrupt bureaucrats and greedy gentry seized vast amounts of temple, educational and military land through illegal sales. No doubt China's contact with modern sharpened the crisis caused by excess rural population. World commerce was the chief compelling force in bringing about this change from public to private ownership. Such a process, accompanied increasing concentration, together with archaic methods of farming, scarcely emerged from the Middle Ages, was doubly trapped process was not taking place in medieval times, but under pressure from Western capital and cheap Western products.
Dr. Sun Yat-sen, father of the Kuomintang, and the Communists both realize that China could not be freed unless the peasant were freed and they began preaching a program of land to the tiller - that is to say, they proposed to the peasant that he support them in their northward march against the warlords in exchange for their help in getting him land. This could obviously be achieved only at the expense of the the landlords. The peasant did not react to the slogans of unifying the country or overthrowing imperialism, presented him by the Kuomintang bourgeoisie. But he did react, and with impassioned violence, to Dr. Sun's slogan of "Land to the tiller," because, choking in his narrow plot, he wanted to throw out the landlord. On this basis, the peasants rose up like a mighty flood, some pouring into Chiang Kai-shek's armies, some joining the peasant unions. On the broad backs of these farmers, Chiang Kai-shek swept to power.
| The Chinese bourgeoisie,
however, was so tied up with the landlord that it could not abide this ally
and turned the peasant soldiers against their brothers in the village associations.
Not all the peasants had risen, but those who had were suppressed. Thus
the landlords were not settled with despite all the promises of soil to
As soon as the mobsters of Tu Yueh-sen's Green Gang had cut down the workers in Shanghai and given the signal for the counterrevolution, the higher army officers, most of whom were large landowners, abandoned all thought of reducing land rents by 25 per cent in accordance with the adopted and passed program of the Kuomintang. Far from reducing rents, the landlords often demanded and received 65 percent instead of 50 percent of the tenant's rice or wheat crop. Should the tenant protest, the landlords would simply have their bailiffs throw him in their dungeons. The compensation the peasant received for putting Chiang Kai-shek in power was thus not land or even rent reductions, but threats, curses, blows and sometimes a coffin.
With the party traitor to the program of their founding fathers, the learned economists in Chiang's government began to justify the betrayal by finding that the land problem was a myth and did not exist.
In adopting this attitude, they could conceivably find support if they wished in some very useful figures. On the morrow of Chiang Kai-shek's coup d'elat in Shanghai all the arable land within China was estimated at one and one-third billion mow (1). The population of the country was around four hundred and fifty million, of which about three hundred and fifty million were farmers. In effect, and under the most ideal conditions, this meant that the peasant would have to extract taxes, food, fuel, clothing - in fact, everything he would ever use in his life from an iron hoe to a wooden coffin - out of no more than four mow (two-thirds of an acre) of land. This fact by itself suggested that China would have to end feudalism or perish. But Chiang's agronomes now discovered in these figures proof of another sort. "What is the use of dividing the land?" they blandly asked. "There is not enough anyway." As for land concentration, it did not exist and hence there was no cause for revolution. No doubt, the economists wished to rationalize their betrayal of the peasants. But their assumptions not only ignored the wishes of the farmers' if this flesh-and-blood man were too insignificant to find a place in their figures - but also ignored the process of land concentration which was taking place before their eyes.
(1) One mow equals approximately one-sixth of an acre.
People who note the incredibly small plots of Chinese farms are apt to draw the conclusion that there are no large landholdings in China. But small fields, far from showing no land concentration, illustrate the backward nature of an economy in which the landlords do not manage large farms for production, but parcel out their land to tenants in order to obtain rents. In Honan, south of the Yellow River, one might ride a donkey cart past scores of villages for a whole day and still be on the same family's land. In Shantung large areas of clan land were monopolized by the descendants of Confucius and in many places the writer came across associations of landlords known as the Hundred Ching Pai, or the Ten Thousand Mow Group. In northern Kiangsu, there was a temple that owned two hundred thousand mow (thirty-three thousand acres) of land. (2) The chief monks, engaged in rent collecting and the practice of usury, maintained big families, including concubines, and had dwellings far grander than even the magistrates. Utterly dependent on the monks for farm tools, the tenants were often conscripted for labor by the armed guards of these ecclesiastical landowners.
Although the national government had no nationwide statistics, there were nevertheless innumerable provincial statistics that formed a most impressive picture of the revolutionary situation engendered by the conditions of landownership. With every desire not to burden this text with figures, I cannot refrain from introducing the statistics of land-ownership in the home provinces of Chiang Kai-shek, T. V. Soong, H. H. Kung and the brothers Chen Li-ju, and Chen Kuo-fu, party bosses of the Kuomintang.
There is here before us a picture of a nation carrying in its womb a peasant war. In a backward and terribly overcrowded country such as China, where a plot of land often means the difference between life and death, these figures are of far greater significance than they would be in a land-rich country such as the United States.
These conditions should have been a warning to both the landlords and the Chiang Kai-shek government. Chinese rulers, however, are traditionally contemptuous of the masses' ability to interfere in their own fate. Instead of seeking to alleviate these conditions by land reform, the Kuomintang bureaucrats adopted just the opposite policy.
(2) See Agrarian China - published by the Institute of Pacific Relations.
(3) There are no accurate land statistics in China. The Communist party declared 10 Per cent of the people held 80-90 per cent of the land. But this seems an exaggeration.
During the Japanase war, land became concentrated to an unheard of degree in modern China. Despite the fact that an estimated fifty million mow of land were lying desolate in the provinces of Honan, Hupeh and Hunan and despite the fact that an estimated ten to fifteen million farmers died of starvation during and after the war, Chiang Kai-shek's bureaucrats using their superior military force and their bureaucratic positions began a gigantic land grab in the interior of China. At the end of the war, the land grab by the Chiang government was even more callous and more open. All the land that the Japanese had robbed from the Chinese people, instead of being turned back to them was taken over by the Kuomintang. Japanese land in Formosa was appropriated by mainland carpetbaggers, while the North China Exploitation Company seized several hundred thousand mow of land in Hopei.
Taking a leaf from the book of their masters, the smaller bureaucrats
and the militarists, unable to live on the paper money salaries given
them by the Chiang government, also began amassing landholdings as a means
of security in times of inflation. Under the concerted drive for land
by Chiang's interlopers from the coast, even rich peasants and small landlords
began to lose their holdings. In Szechuan, it was estimated that during
eight years of war anywhere from 20 to 30 per cent of the total landlords
were new landlords who occupied go per cent of the land owned by the old
landlords. This explosive bomb directed against the native money-landlords
brought forth a bitter reaction. "All land under the sky belongs
to the emperor," used to be an old Chinese saying. Now the dispossessed
landlords complained: "All land under the sky belongs to Chiang Kai-shek."
Such a way of speaking, of course, was mainly symbolic, but it had revolutionary
| Concentrated ownership
of land in crowded China could not help but produce different results from
what such a process produced in unpeopled America. In the United States,
the way American moneyed barons seized the Western lands was brutal enough,
but out of it came railroads, mines, great cattle ranches - all the overflowing
gifts of capitalism. But land grabbing in China only filled the granaries
of the landlords with grain rents. Thus the process was not productive,
but parasitic in nature.
Compared to Prussian junkers or the landed nobility in czarist Russia, the Chinese landlord was a very backward man. While the rich German and Russian peasant leased in land for large-scale farming, the rich chinese leased out land merely to suck profits from the sweat of his tenants. Reactionary as they were, the kulak and the junker performed at times progressive functions in rural economy; the Chinese landlord performed none. The obverse side of this feudal medal was that the peasant leased in land to maintain a slavelike livelihood. In capitalist countries a landless peasant either goes to the factory or hires himself out as a laborer. But in China there was no industry and no large-scale farming and he had to become a sharecropper in order to live. Thus, while he suffered land hunger, he was at the same time chained to the land.
This semislave type of
tenancy was inseparable from the system of usury practiced in China. The
most massive and best-built houses in the villages and small towns were
always the pawnshops. What the banks were to the rich, these shops were
to the poor. The majority of the pawnshop owners were landlords or merchants
tied to the landlords. These pawnshops were most often instruments for getting
hold of the peasants' land. In Honan, I found a landlord who owned 350 acres
of land in a village with only seven hundred acres. Most of this land had
been acquired through the pawnshop.
The writer came across a farmer in Honan who borrowed a hundred catties of millet from his landlord before planting. (4) At harvest time, according to the agreement, he was to pay back two hundred catties. When he could not raise the amount, he begged for more time and agreed to pay 300 catties at the next harvest. Unable to pay, because of drought, he was then compelled to convert the loan into a mortgage on his land, four mow of which he eventually had to give up. Because of this his mother and two children starved to death. Thus, what originated as a small grain loan of a hundred catties ended up as a debt of four mow of land and three corpses.
|原注四：一斤折合一又三分之一磅（一斤：500克；一磅：454克）。||(4) One catty= 1.33 lbs.|
| "In good years,
the landlord grows crops in the fields. In bad years, the landlord grows
money in his house."
This bitter verse of poor Shansi farmers aptly describes conditions
whereby drought and famine were often the very instruments landlords and
rich peasants used for amassing land and wealth.
This is explained by the fact that the banks, having muscled in on the usury racket, compensated the landlords by limiting the loans to rural co-operatives organized by the gentry. The county co-operatives would then lend money to village chiefs who would in turn lend it out to farmers. Thus the peasant now had three usurers on top of him instead of one. The process, however, was further complicated by the fact that the local party officials, with the support of the right-wing clique of the Kuomintang, began to expel from the villages rural co-operatives organized by the rural bourgeoisie and partly backed by Dr. H. H. Kung, finance minister of China. This was often done in co-operation with the local military or by party rascals who, when all other measures failed, accused local merchants of being Communists. Giving loans to a small majority of the local party officeholders while discriminating against some of the older gentry and the majority of the farmers was like holding a pistol against the head of the middle peasants and small merchants who had often organized self-help groups of their own during the Japanese war. This produced further contradictions in the villages. The process, however, was greatly accelerated after the Japanese war when Chiang's armies returned to the seacoast and began to drive north against the Communists. Chiang instructed the Farmer's Bank to strengthen control over the co-operative county treasuries. This meant: encourage the gentry and the upper strata of the peasantry to go into usury and convert these rich farmers into a support for the Chiang regime. This lesson was not lost on the peasant who had not seen Chiang's government for eight years, but now quite clearly saw that the Kuomintang was the friend of the landlord and the bailiff. In this attempt to create a firm base of support among the gentry in the reconquered areas, the Chiang regime alienated not only the poor, but also the middle peasant, and in the process committed suicide. For what Chiang created was not so much a new bourgeoisie but thousands of supporters for the Communists' 8th Route Army.
The failure of the Kuomintang, not only to introduce reforms in the villages, but rather to make conditions worse than they ever had been, was not so much a personal failure of evil and greedy men - though these there were in abundance - as it was the failure of the Kuomintang to come to grips with the central problem of Chinese rural civilization: feudalism. That Chiang Kai-shek and his party alter twenty years still could not grapple with this problem furnished abundant proof of the terrible contradictions with which their rulership was riven. It was quite clear that the Kuomintang rulers, in addition to leaning on foreign capital, and in spite of their urgent needs to modernize the country, predicated their own rule on the rule of the landlords. In view of this fact, all the pious hopes of President Truman and the bitter blasts of General Marshall calling on the Chiang regime to reform, were just so much wishful thinking. The Chiang regime could not reform as long as it dared not attack the landlords. And it dared not attack the landlords because in essence it represented feudalism itself.
What do we mean by feudalism? Technically speaking, the name is incorrect. And certain learned philosophers, both Chinese and foreign, have taken great pains to point out that feudalism does not exist in hina because there is no serfdom; that is, men can sell their labor freely. It is true that China abolished this formal type of feudalism many years ago, just as it is true that the penetration of the West destroyed the self-sufficient natural economy of the centralized feudal society and placed much of Chinese life under the demands of a money economy, though with few progressive results, as we have seen. But this manner of looking at the problem of China is academic in the extreme and takes no cognizance of the feudal remnants that exercise such an important role in the lives, thoughts, customs, habits and emotions of the people. In abolishing serfdom, the Chinese did not entirely do away with the power of the landlord to conscript labor, to jail debtors and to control the life and even death of his tenants; it did not completely abolish child slavery, the custom of buying and selling girls nor the system of concubinage or forced marriage. All of these conditions are irrevocably bound up with the rule of the landlords and the gentry.
The power of the landlords in China was not everywhere the same. In the provinces along the seacoast and in the Yangtze Valley where foreign capital penetrated and where mercantile and small industrial cities grew up, the power of the rural gentry in many cases had to be shared with city merchants. In the western and northern provinces, however, the landlords had almost unlimited political power because of the thicker atmosphere of precapitalism. Even in northern Kiangsu, along the seacoast and not far from Shanghai, landlords lived like feudal barons in mud castles, surrounded by armed guards and controlling tenants in fifteen or twenty villages. Such castles acted as a trading center for tenants who were completely at the mercy of the landlord or his bailiffs. Not only had the tenant to bring 50 per cent of his crops to the manor, but also his personal and family problems. In Shansi, I found that landlords often governed all wedding ceremonies and funerals, so that no one could get married or be buried without the approval of these feudal lords.
| The power of the landlords gave them
control over village women, especially the wives of their tenants, with
whom they could have whatever relations pleased them. Very often, the tenant
and his wife acquiesced in these relations out of fear, but if the tenant
should protest, he had little chance to make his protest effective. In a
village in western Shantung I came across a landlord whose common practice
was to make his tenant go out into the fields and work while he took his
pleasure of the tenant's wife. When Li protested, the landlord had him kidnaped
by bandits. In order to cover his participation in the kidnaping, the landlord
pretended to mediate the affair through puppet troops, preparing a banquet
on the tenant's behalf. But observe the cleverness of this plot. The grateful
tenant was released and borrowed money from the kindly landlord to pay for
the banquet. Of course, a high interest rate was charged, the tenant could
not repay his debt, and lost his own small plot of ground. The landlord
then consummated the whole affair by taking the peasant's wife as payment
of the debt.
Such subtlety as this, however, was often unnecessary. A rich peasant or landlord merely had to wait until a farmer was in the fields and go around to his home and force the farmer's wife to his wishes. Short of murder, which was difficult because of the landlord's guards and because the landlord controlled most of the spears in the village, the farmer had no recourse, especially since the landlord or his henchman was village chief and hence the police power, too.
In another village of western Shantung, I heard of a landlord who had been attracted by the charms of a young neighbor girl, the daughter-in-law of his own cousin. Because the girl was kept behind the mud walls of her house, the landlord had little chance to approach her. The only method was direct assault. So one day, having summoned his village chief and having armed both himself and his bailiff with a pistol and a sword, he made his way to the girl's home and deliberately raped her. No one dared protest - in fact there was no one to whom a protest could be made - because the landlord was the government.
In a village in Anyang County in Honan, I found a young farm wife who told me she was constantly forced to receive the attentions of a local landlord, the head of a Kuomintang militia corps. Neither she nor her husband was able to resist, simply because the landlord was the boss and hence the law in the village.
What more proof does one want that medieval factors still controlled
Chinese rural life. The droit du seigneur was abolished with the abolition
of serfdom in the West, but in the East, though the landlord did not have
the right of the first night with his tenant's wife, he nevertheless had
the right of many succeeding nights and afternoons, too.
The end of the Japanese war found the peasantry in this condition. The army had carried away about twelve to fifteen million fieldworkers, famine perhaps another ten million, and there were untold millions of refugees. The landless farmers went under first, the semitenants next. Those dispossessed from the land increased by the hundreds of thousands. During the third and fourth years of the war the middle peasants began to go under. Then some of the rich peasants. By the end of the war small and middle landlords and even large regional landlords began to feel the pressure from Chiang's land-hungry bureaucrats and Japanese puppets. The desolate land ran into millions of acres. Land hunger also spread like the plague. No longer could the peasants live under the system of extortionate land rents. The peasant's holdings had grown so small that he could not afford to pay the traditional 50 percent, to say nothing of 80, 90 and over 100 per cent, of his main crop. Rents not only used up all his surplus labor, but encroached on the labor necessary to keep him alive. Everyone was asking, "When will these Japanese dwarfs be driven out?" But when the Japanese war ended and a new one started, the peasant found Chiang's new rural bureaucrats even more hostile to him than the Japanese or his old gentry had been. He began to grumble. From grumbling, he passed into banditry. Near the 8th Route Army areas he began to look for allies.
| The ruling classes could
not help but see that the peasant was going to explode in a violent upheaval.
But they kept putting these black thoughts from their minds. Here is what
Chen Li-fu, graduate of the Pittsburgh School of Mines, Kuomintang boss
and preacher of the Confucian way of life, revealed to one impressed foreign
reporter: To divide the land is not necessary because when the head of a
Chinese family dies, he divides the land among his sons. Here is what T.
V. Soong, after his appointment to the governorship of Kwangtung Province,
where he is a large landholder, unveiled to another correspondent: "We
are not planning a land reform in Kwangtung because the system we have had
here for years is satisfactory." Finally, here is what a liberal professor
in a Christian university and at the same time an official of the Shantung
government had to say to this writer: "China is not like czarist Russia;
we have no large landlords so there is no need for land reform, but only
a reform of the officials." (How one of these things was to be done
without the other, the Christian professor did not explain.) To introduce
a land reform into the countryside thus seemed in the eyes of these party
bosses, governors and Christians something alien to the Chinese way of life.
It is hardly necessary to remark that such Oriental philosophizing was quite
beyond the peasant. He thought there was only one thing to do: throw out
the landlord and divide the land. That was the essence of the revolution
to the tenant, to the rural worker, to the coolie.
If the villages behind Chiang Kai-shek's lines remained comparatively peaceful, that was only because the peasant was awaiting leadership and an opportunity to rise. He had not forgotten about the land. Nor did the Kuomintang officials, despite their utterances, think he had forgotten either. All their remarks about there being no need for land reform were merely a camouflage for the deep-seated fears that Chinese rulers have always felt toward the peasantry. To the official the thought of this ignorant clod covered with the good Chinese earth rushing into his yamen was like some terrible dream out of the pages of the Shui Hu Chuan. (5)
Well might the officials tremble!
For this simple man, born to tenant, feudal slavery, to an overworked and crowded plot of ground, stunned into obedience beneath the grasping landlord's hand, dispossessed from his land by crooked deals and savage violence, robbed of his wife's caresses and his children's laughter, suddenly rose with an impassioned thrill and, under the threat of death itself, began to demand land and revenge.
|(5) Water Margin, one of China's most famous novels, deals with a band of outlaws who revolted against the emperor at Peking and occupied thirty-six counties in west Shantung.|