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The Yan'an Way of Co-operativization

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 February 2009


In both Western and Chinese Communist historiography, the “Yan'an Way” has become tangled up in the Mao legend, and it has suffered accordingly. An aim of this article is to peel back the Maoist crust and re-examine the workings of the Yan'an Way during the period when it was developed, and in two different parts of the Yan'an base (the Shaan-Gan-Ning Border Region), the place from which the model was launched in the early 1940s. The subregional comparison is used to show that, in different sociopolitical contexts, the Yan'an Way worked quite differently, and that results in only one place provided material for the construction of an heroic legend. The rural co-operativization drive of 1943–44 is made the special focus of this study because it was a key component of the Yan'an Way and subsumes many of its most characteristic features.

New Light on CCP Base Areas
Copyright © The China Quarterly 1994

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1. Chen Yung-fa forcefully and convincingly demonstrates the state-building objectives of the wartime Communist movement. Chen finds “totalitarian implications” in the mass campaigns which, for other analysts, have epitomized Yan'an Way populism. Yung-Fa, Chen, Making Revolution: The Chinese Communist Movement in Central and Eastern China, 1937–1945 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), p. 15Google Scholar and passim. See, also, Kataoka, Tetsuya, Resistance and Revolution: The Communists and the Second United Front (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975)Google Scholar; Hartford, Kathleen, “Step by step: reform, resistance and revolution in the Chin-Ch'a-Chi Border Region,” Ph.D. dissertation, Stanford University, 1980Google Scholar; Levine, Steven, An vil of Victory: The Communist Revolution in Manchuria, 1945–1948 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987).Google Scholar

2. Selden, Mark, The Yenan Way in Revolutionary China (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971), pp. 211–12.Google Scholar

3. Ibid. p. 177.

4. Gray, Jack puts it neatly and bluntly: “In theory the mass line was a democratic process. In practice it was seldom so. Its precedents lay in the Jiangxi Soviet's combination of consent and terror.” Rebellions and Revolutions: China from the 1800s to the 1980s (London: Oxford University Press, 1990), p. 284.Google Scholar

5. Oi, Jean makes this point when noting the shrewdness of the Maoist state's calls for self-reliance in agriculture during the collectivist era. State and Peasant in Contemporary China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), p. 230.Google Scholar See also Shue, Vivienne, ”Emerging state–society relations in China”, in Jørgen, Delman, Østergaard, Clemens Stubbe and Flemming, Christiansen (eds.), Remaking Peasant China (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 1990), p. 77.Google Scholar

6. Selden, The Yenan Way, p. 205.

7. Selden, Mark, “Cooperation and conflict: cooperative and collective formation in the Chinese countryside,” in The Political Economy of Chinese Socialism (Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 1988), ch. 3, pp. 54100Google Scholar; Friedman, Edward, Pickowicz, Paul and Selden, Mark, Chinese Village, Socialist State (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991).Google Scholar See especially pp. 82,94, 101–104.

8. Duara, Prasenjit, “State involution: a study of local finances in north China, 1911–1935,” Comparative Studies in History and Society, Vol. 29, No. 1 (January 1987), p. 132CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Charles, Tilly (ed.), The Formation of National States in Western Europe (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975), pp. 69.Google Scholar

9. The contraction and eventual suffocation of the rural market, the progressive elimination of farming-family sidelines, and rationing in combination with the institution of the hukou (household registration) system were the main factors contributing to a gradual severing of inter-village linkages from the early 1950s onwards. See Shue, “Emerging state-society relations in China,” pp. 62–63; Oi, State and Peasant, p. 6; Friedman et ah, Chinese Village, Socialist State, pp. 203, 271.

10. Selden, The Yenan Way, p. 210.

11. The contrast between the social ecologies of the Yanshu and Suide subregion is described in more detail in Keating, P., “The ecological origins of the Yan'an Way,” Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs, No. 32 (July 1994).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

12. Only Yan'an city and Fu county remained unreformed.

13. Zhongguo, Kexueyuan Lishi Yanjiusuo (History Research Unit, Chinese Academy of f Science) (ed.), Shaanganning bianqu canyihui wenxian huiji, (Collected Documents of the Shaan-Gan-Ning Border Region Assemblies) (Beijing: Kexue chubanshe, 1958), p. 21Google Scholar; “Bianqu nongye tongjibiao (1940–1943)” (“A table of agricultural statistics for the Border Region (1940–1943)”) in Kang Ri Zhanzheng shiqi Shaanganning bianqu caizheng jingji f shiliao zhaibian (A Collection of Historical Materials on the Finances and Economy of the Shaan-Gan-Ning Border Region during the Resistance War Period), 9 vols. (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe, 1982), hereafter CZJJSL, Vol. 2, pp. 573–74.

14. There is little consistency in the population figures listed in various sources. I have used Party population estimates for 1941 and migration data for the 1937–45 period to make the following estimates: 1936 populationof 4 subregions:548,382; 1937–40 immigrants: 174, 604; 1940 population of 4 subregions:724,986. “Shaanganning bianqu shehui jiuji shiye gaishu” (“An overview of social welfare relief work in the Shaan-Gan-Ning Border Region”), June I 1944, CZJJSL, Vol. 9, p. 399; “Shaanganning bianqu nongye” (“Agriculture in the Shaan-Gan-Ning Border Region”), 1945, CZJJSL, Vol. 2, pp. 644–45.

15. Zhongguo gongchandang Xibei zhongyangju diaocha yanjiushi (CCP North-west Bureau's Investigation and Research Department), hereafter NBIR, “Bianqu jingji qingkuang jianshu” (“A brief overview of the Border Region's economy”), 19 February 1948, CZJJSL, Vol. 1, p. 17.Google Scholar

16. Shufan, Chai, Guanyuan, Yu and Ping, Peng, Suide Mizhi tudi wenti chubu yanjiu (Preliminary Research into the Land Problem in Suide and Mizhi) (Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1979, first pub. 1942), p. 38Google Scholar; Shui, Li, “Shaanxi Suidexian Emaoyucunde jiedai” (“Money-lending in Emaoyu village, Shaanxi province's Suide county”), Zhongguo nongcun jingji yanjiuhui nianbao (Annual Report of the Chinese Rural Economy Research Society), No. 2 (1934), in CZJJSL, Vol. 7, pp. 89, 17–18Google Scholar; Wentian, Zhanget al., Mizhixian Yangjiagou diaocha (An Investigation of Yangjiagou Village in Mizhi County) (Beijing: Sanlian shudian, 1957, first pub. 1942), pp. 1718.Google Scholar

17. Chai Shufan et al, Suide Mizhi tudi wenti chubu yanjiu, p. 31.

18. “Xibeiju guanyu guanche hezuoshe lianxihui jueyide jueding” (“A North-west Bureau statement concerning implementation of the decisions of the Regional Co-op Directors Conference”), 9 July 1944, CZJJSL Vol. 7, p. 62.

19. “Shaanganning bianqu hezuoshe lianxihui jueyi” (“Decisions of the Shaan-Gan-Ning Border Region Co-op Directors Conference”), 7 July 1944, CZJJSL, Vol. 7, p. 370.

20. A late-1943 report said that only 11 % of Shaan-Gan-Ning's co-ops imitated the South District model. Shaanganning bianqu zhengfu jiansheting (Shaan-Gan-Ning Border Region Government, Reconstruction Department), hereafter Reconstruction Department, “Hezuo gongzuo zongjie” (“A summary of co-op work”), 1943, CZJJSL, Vol. 7, p. 365.Google Scholar

21. NBIR, “Shaanganning bianqu laodong huzhuzu” (“Labour mutual aid in the Shaan-Gan-Ning Border Region”) (Yan'an, 1944) in Shi, Jingtanget al. (eds), Zhongguo nongye hezuohua yundong shiliao (Historical Materials on the Agricultural Co-operativization Movement in China) (Beijing: Sanlian shudian, 1957), p. 247.Google Scholar

22. Shaanganning bianqu zhengfu (Shaan-Gan-Ning Border Region government), hereafter SGN government, “Bianqude yunshu shiye” (“Transport work in the Border Region”), 1944, CZJJSL, Vol. 7, p. 252Google Scholar; Zedong, Mao, “Economic and financial problems,” translated by Andrew, Watson, Mao Zedong and the Political Economy of the Border Region (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), p. 136.Google Scholar

23. “Shaanganning bianqu zhengfu guanyu liyong gongyandaijin fazhan yunshu hezuode zhishi” (“The Shaan-Gan-Ning Border Region's government directive concerning the use of salt tax substitutes to develop co-operative transport”), 2 October 1943, CZJJSL, Vol. 7. pp. 277–78.

24. Zili, Gao, “Yunshu hezuo jiantao” (“A critical assessment of transport co-operation”), Jiefang ribao (Liberation Daily), hereafter JFRB, 23 September 1943.Google Scholar

25. Tenants rushed to buy land from landlords who were more or less bankrupted by big payouts of rent refunds; the landlords were forced to refund the amount overcharged since 1940. The tenant spending and landlord penury made the need for credit facilities particularly urgent that winter. “Sui-Mi xiaoxing hezuoshe zongjie” (“An overview of small co-ops in the suide-Mizhi area”), 1946, CZJJSL, Vol. 7, pp. 121–22.

26. “Suide Zhang Piyuan hezuoshe dabuzi touru shengchan” (“An overview of small co-ops in the Suide-Mizhi area”), 1946, CZJJSL, Vol. 7, pp. 121–22.

27. The population of South District increased by more than 400% between 1937 and 1943. A boundary change in this period added another two xiang (making 5 xiang in all); but the population growth was much more a result of migrations than the boundary change. Jieshao Nanqu hezuoshe (An Introduction to the South District Co-operative) (Hong Kong: Xinminzhu chubanshe, 1949), p.2.

28. The Chinese Industrial Co-operatives (CIC 0r “Indusco”) movement established an office in Yan'an in1939. It was quickly absorbed into the Shaan-Gan-Ning bureaucracy and retained only fragile links with the CIC organization in other parts of China.

29. This report says that 370 out of 691 co-operative societies were closed down, and that enterprises run by co-ops dropped from 1,280 units to 532. Shaanganning bianqu zhengfu gongye hezuoshe bangongshi (Shaan-Gan-Ning Border Region Goverment's Industrial Co-operative Office), hereafter Indusco Office, “Bianqu hezuoshe gongzuo zongjie” (“A summary of the Border Region's co-operative work”), December 1948, CZJJSL, Vol. 7, p. 84.Google Scholar

30. Ibid. p. 85.

31. Jiansheting, , Hezuoshebu, (Reconstruction Department, Co-operative Section), “Muqian bianqu hezuoshede fangzhen wenti” (“Policy questions concerning the co-operatives in the Border Region today”), 11 January 1946, CZJJSL, Vol. 7, pp. 472–73Google Scholar; Reconstruction Department, “Muqian bianqu hezuo fangzhen wentide yanjiu cailiao” (“Material for studying issues relating to the Border Region's current co-operative policy”), 26 February 1946, CZJJSL, Vol. 7, pp. 459460.Google Scholar

32. Reconstruction Department, “Muqian bianqu hezuo fangzhen wentide yanjiu cailiao,” p. 470; Indusco Office, ”Bianqu hezuoshe gongzuo zongjie,” p. 84.

33. Indusco Office, ibid p. 83.

34. Ibid. p. 468, emphasis added.

35. “Zuofeng wenti-zuexi xiji” (“Rectification questions-study notes”), 7 December 1945, CZJJSL, Vol. 7, p. 479.

36. NBIR, “Shaanganning bianqu laodong huzhuzu,” p. 213.

37. “Dui ‘jiti’ kaihuang yijian.” (“Some opinions about the ‘collective’ reclamation of wasteland”), JFRB, 9 May 1942.

38. A huge wasteland reclamation drive in early 1942 conscripted about 5,000 labourers into collective labour teams to open up 80,000 mu of wasteland. Mao Zedong, “Economic and financial problems,” pp. 77–78.

39. “Dui ‘jiti’ kaihuang Yijian.”.

40. NBIR, “Shaanganning bianqu laodong huzhuzu,” p. 213.

41. “Dui ‘jiti’ kaihuang Yijian.” The North-west Bureau Investigation and Research Department commissioned rural investigators to collect information on co-operative customs in the villages and published the findings under the title Bianqu jiuyoude gedi laodong huzhu (Traditional Labour Mutual Aid Customs in Various Parts of the Border Region) (Yan'an, 1944), in CZJJSL, Vol. 2, pp. 443–465.

42. NBIR, “Shaanganning bianqu laodong huzhuzu,” p. 213.

43. Mao Zedong claimed in October 1943 that just 10% of Yan'an county's able-bodied men were members of regular biangong and zhagong teams, but that 70% participated in seasonal teams. Mao Zedong, “Lun hezuoshe” (“On co-operatives”), Zedong, Mao, Mao Zedong xuanji (Selected Works of Mao Zedong) (CCP Central Committee, Jinchaji Central Bureau, 1947; reprinted by CCRM, Washington, 1970), p. 183.Google Scholar

44. “Shaanganning bianqu sanshier niandu nongdai shishi banfa” (“Methods for providing agricultural loans in 1943 in the Shaan-Gan-Ning Border Region”), 1943, CZJJSL, Vol. 5, p. 408.

45. Ibid. p. 411; “Nongye shengchan huzhu xiaozu zanxing zuzhi tiaoli” (“Provisional organizational rules for agricultural production mutual aid small groups”), 1941, CZJJSL, Vol. 2, p. 425.

46. Clause 8 of the “Provisional organization methods for agricultural loan groups (or production groups)” reads as follows: “For production work, each group member has the duty to engage in labour exchanges and other mutual aid co-operation.” “Shaanganning bianqu sanshier niandu nongdai shishi banfa,” p. 411.

47. Yinhang, Bianqu (Border Region Bank), “Yijiusiemian bianqu nongdaide chubu zongjie” (“Summary of preliminary measures for agricultural loans in 1942 in the Border Region”), 2 November 1942, CZJJSL, Vol. 5, p. 421.Google Scholar

48. The “Let Us Get Organised” speech was made at the first Border Region Labour Heroes Congress in November 1943. Zedong, Mao, Selected Works, Vol. 3 (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1967), pp. 153161.Google Scholar

49. Boqu, Lin, “Shaanganning bianqu zhengfu yinian gongzuo zongjie” (“A summary of the year's work of the Shaan-Gan-Ning Border Region Government”), JFRB, 8 February 1944.Google Scholar

50. See, for example, “Mizhi Yindoude biangongdui” (“Mutual aid teams in Yindou district, Mizhi county”), JFRB, 29 August 1943.

51. “Nonghu jihua” (“Peasant household plans”), 1946? CZJJSL, Vol. 2. p. 870; “Jieshao Shaanganning bianqu zuo nonghu jihuade jingyan” (“An explanation of the experience in the Shaan-Gan-Ning Border Region of drawing up peasant household plans”), 1943, CZJJSL, Vol. 2, pp. 865–67.

52. Ibid. pp. 866–67; “Nonghu jihua” (1946?), p. 871; “Nonghu jihua” (“Peasant household plans”), 1944? CZJJSL, Vol. 2, p. 864.

53. “Zenyang ding nonghu shengchan jihua” (“The way to draw up peasant household production plans”), JFRB, 13 November 1943.

54. NBIR, “Shaanganning bianqu laodong huzhuzu,” p. 239.

55. “Suidexian biangong gaikuang” (“Labour exchanges in Suide county”), JFRB, 6 October 1943; “Mizhixian yijiusisinian chungeng biangong zongjie baogao” (“A report on mutual aid during the 1944 spring ploughing in Mizhi county”), 14 May 1944, CZJJSL, Vol. 2, pp. 508–12. NBIR, Bianqu jiuyoude gedi laodong huzhu, p. 450.

56. “Guanyu kaizhan shengchan yundongde zhishi” (“A directive concerning the development of the production movement”), JFRB, 30 September 1943.

57. “Minzhi Yindoude biangongdui.”

58. The authorities made a publicity example of five brothers; three moved south in 1943, leaving two brothers and all the womenfolk to manage the family's Suide farm business. “Yimin wenti” (“The migrant issue”), JFRB, 15 November 1943.

59. CCP publicity promotions of the mutual aid teamwork method always argued the greater efficiency of people working together and the consequent higher incomes for team members. Cadres were told that the only way of keeping teams intact was to ensure that co-operation resulted in increased productivity. See, for example, NBIR, “Shaanganning bianqu laodong huzhuzu,” p. 244; “Yan'anxian Nianzhuang biangongdui” (“The mutual aid team in Yan'an county's Nianzhuang village”), JFRB, 19 December 1943.Google Scholar

60. “Wu Manyou he Wujiazaoyuan” (“Wu Manyou and Wujiazaoyuan village”), JFRB, 1 January 1944.

61. “Tian Erhong chuangzao mofan xiang” (“Tian Erhong creates a model xiang”), JFRB, 12 February 1944; “Mofan dangyuan he laodong yingxiong Shen Changlin tongzhi” (“Model Party member and labour hero, Comrade Shen Changlin”), JFRB, 28 January 1944.

62. Wu Manyou owned 327 mu of land in 1943; Tian Erhong owned 279 mu; and Shen Changlin, together with two brothers, owned 324 mu.

63. In Wu Manyou's village, for example, only four out of the village's 18 households in 1943 had been resident there before 1935.

64. The Party wanted the labour-exchange teams to emulate the speed, efficiency, tight organization and discipline of zhagong teams without being tainted with the boss-employee relationships that pertained to zhagong. NBIR, Bianqujiuyoude gedi laodong huzhu, p. 458.

65. NBIR, “Shaanganning bianqu laodong huzhuzu,” p. 237.

66. Dongfang, Ding, Lun jiti laodong (On Collective Labour) in Shaanganning bianqu zuzhi laodong huzhude jingyan (The Experience of Organizing Labour Mutual Aid in the Shaan-Gan-Ning Border Region) (Huabei shudian, 1944), p. 48.Google Scholar

67. NBIR, “Shaanganning bianqu laodong huzhuzu,” p. 238.

68. “Mofan dangyuan laodong yingxiong Suide Liu Yuhou shoujiang” (“Model Party member and labour hero, Suide's Liu Yuhou, is awarded a prize”), JFRB, 22 March 1943.

69. The soviet-perios land redistributions in most of this district had survived the “counter-revolution” instigated by the Kuomintang administration which was based in Suide city from 1936 to early 1940.

70. “Suidexian biangong gaikuang.”

71. Ibid.

72. “Suide Haojiaqiao da biangoing” (“The big mutual aid term in Suide's Haojiaqiao village”), JFRB, 13 March 1944.

73. “Xin yingxiongde chuxian, Suide mofan cun he Wang Depiao” (“The appearance of a new hero - Suide's model village and Wang Depiao”), JFRB, 26 December 1944.

74. “Liu Yuhou yu Haojiaqiao” (“Liu Yuhou and Haojiaqiao village”), JFRB, 21 February 1944; Diweihui, Suide Fenqu (Suide subregion Party committee), “Zai geti jingji jichushang jiti laodong qu fanrongde Wangjiaping” (“Wangjiaping – a place in which collective labour, on the basis of private ownership, creates prosperity”) in Suide fenqu diweihui (Suide subregion Party committee), Dianxing cailiao jieshao (A Discussion of Some Data on Models) (n.p., 1949).Google Scholar

75. “Mizhixian yijiusisinian chungeng biangong zongjie baogao.”

76. Ibid.

77. Ibid.

78. Ibid.

79. “Suide Haojiaqiao da biangong.”

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