An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

The Collectivization of Agriculture

Mar 20, 2017 © Ulrich Theobald

The collectivization of agriculture (nongye jitihua 农业集体化) had a much more severe impact on the life of Chinese, as 80 per cent of the population were still peasants. It was also a critical issue because most party cadres hailed from the countryside. Collectivization was difficult because of "feudal traditions" thousands of years old prevailed, and because after the first land reform in 1950, "capitalist" tendencies had shown up on the part of the new small landowners. Some sold their land, others rented it out and thus created a new group of tenant farmers. Finally, some rich landowners had been spared in the first phase of land reform, and had regained considerable influence in the countryside, sometimes also by industrial and commercial activities. The only solution to these problems was apparently total collectivization of land ownership. Individual peasants were to be transformed into workers of production teams or production groups (hezuoshe 合作社). The leadership was enthusiastic about the potential outputs of agriculture organized in this way, estimating it 20 per cent higher than the present state (Guillermaz 1976: 89).

The government encouraged farmers to create mutual-aid teams (huzhuzu 互助组) which were first to be seasonal, and later permanent. In December 1951, when the Decision on Mutual Aid and Cooperation (Guanyu nongye shengchan huzhu hezuo de jueyi 关于农业生产互助合作的决议) was promulgated, 14,000 production cooperatives (shengchan hezuoshe 生产合作社) existed already. According to official figures, their share rose from 10 per cent in 1950 to 25 per cent in 1951, 36 per cent in 1952, 43 per cent in 1953, and 60 per cent in 1955 (Guillermaz 1976: 89-90). In December 1953, the Central Committee adopted the Resolution on the Development of Agricultural Producers' Cooperatives (Guanyu fazhan nongye shengchan hezuoshe de jueyi 关于发展农业生产合作社的决议). A year later, 400,000 cooperatives existed–representing a meagre 7 per cent of all peasant families and in late 1955 the cooperatives made out 15 per cent, or 650,000, with close to 17 million families. This means that 26 families on average were united in a cooperative. They were mainly found in the northwestern region that had been dominated by the communists since the late 1930s anyway. In other places, the progress of collectivization was sluggish. Mao Zedong therefore intervened by putting more pressure on cadres to realize the envisaged full nationalization of soil until 1967, a stage in which the agricultural output would be 100 or 200 per cent higher than before 1949. A three-volume book was published on the "High Tide of Socialism in China's Countryside" (Zhongguo nongcun de shehui zhuyi gaochao 中国农村的社会主义高潮), to which Mao wrote a preface.

At the end of 1955, 70 million families worked together in 1.9 million cooperatives, and half a year later already 110 million (Guillermaz 1976: 91). Yet production cooperatives were not fully nationalized. Part of them was semi-socialist (chuji nongye shengchan hezuoshe 初级农业生产合作社, chujishe 初级社). Members (20-50 families) retained ownership of their land, tools, and animals, and were paid according to a complex system of points which evaluated basic financial contributions, land, tools and animals, quantity and quality of work. The second, or advanced or socialist, type of cooperatives (gaoji nongye shenchan hezuoshe 高级农业生产合作社, gaojishe 高级社, jiti nongzhuang 集体农庄) was larger (100-250 families), considered only the work each individual contributed. Yet still, houses and small plots of land (for private production like grocery of poultry) remained in the families' hands. Members were paid out in grain and money, of which a third was deducted as tax and for the management and development of the cooperative. The quota of compulsory sales of grain to the state was decided for a three-year period. The state received about a quarter of the agricultural output in the shape of either taxes or purchases at a fixed rate. The amount each person was granted annually was 560 pounds of unhusked rice, which is just above the subsistence level (Guillermaz 1976: 92-93). The cooperatives were managed relatively autonomously, and following the "Model Ruling for a Production Cooperative" (Gaoji nongye shengchan hezuoshe shifan zhangcheng 高级农业生产合作社示范章程) adopted in March 1956.

The collectivization aroused a new class struggle, this time between the small and middle peasants against the rich peasants. But even the new middle peasants showed little sympathy to give up what they had been given in 1950. Many families slaughtered their livestock and eat up reserved, instead of handing it over to a collective unit. Several times numerous peasants retreaded from already created cooperatives. In order to avoid overhasty creation of cooperatives, the Party carried out educational campaigns to convince the peasants to cast their lot with socialism. In August 1955 the Party "fixed three things" (san ding 三定), namely the quantity of agricultural output, the quantity the harvest to be delivered, and the quantity that was allowed to purchase from the state in case of need. The obligations of the Plan forced the authorities to order the cultivation of crops where climate or soil were not suitable, or where customarily other crops were cultivated. Yet in total, most Chinese peasants for various reasons (patience, shortage of arable land, positive propaganda, Party experience in earlier decades, disburdening from feeding family members) quite positively accepted the introduction of the new production system.

Resistance was rather found inside the Party. Some comrades, mainly Liu Shaoqi, Deng Zihui 邓子恢 (1896-1972), Peng Dehuai, and probably Gao Gang, advocated the introduction of machines before collectivization. Liu Shaoqi's aim was to ensure high production figures which, in his eyes, was only possible by retaining the position of the rich peasants.

Sources: related film: Kenneth R. Walker, Collectivization in Retrospect: The "Socialist High Tide" of Autumn 1955-Spring 1956, in The China Quarterly, No. 26 (Apr. - Jun., 1966), pp. 1-43. Y. Y. Kueh , Mao and Agriculture in China's Industrialization: Three Antitheses in a 50-Year Perspective, DOI: