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Terror is always experienced subjectively, making it very difficult to assess its impact. Both the PRC in Sunan and the ROC in Taiwan engaged in strenuous actions to establish internal security and harden previously soft borders, and both deliberately used campaigns of fear to extend their reach deep into society. The PRC did so in Sunan with an openly named campaign: the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries while the ROC in Taiwan engaged in a series of vicious police actions against suspected Communists and subversives. While the confirmed numbers of victims are elusive, in either raw numbers or as a percentage of the population, the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries dispatched more victims in Sunan than the White Terror did in Taiwan. But in Taiwan, no social group was immune, and violent repression fell much more unpredictably than it did in Sunan.
While both the PRC in Sunan and the ROC in Taiwan had judicial systems that presumed the guilt of the accused and offered lenience to those who came forward and confessed, both were in practice arbitrary. In Sunan promises of lenience for those who registered were abruptly cancelled with the “high tide” of the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries, and in Taiwan the extension of lenience was notoriously inconsistent. The ways in which the state in Sunan and Taiwan implemented campaigns against subversion were, however, very different. In Sunan, the accused were paraded in front of a large audience in public accusation sessions and directly confronted by their victims’ tales of sorrow, whipping up the crowd into enthusiasm for the state’s just retribution; in Taiwan the accused were spirited away by shadowy security organizations, held incognito in prisons, and sentenced according to (martial) “law” in performances of procedure put on by the state for itself.
In the introduction to this volume, I suggested that in the current literature on state building and state formation there is a gap between Weberian and Gramscian approaches that might be usefully bridged. Weberians assume that, with the right kinds of institutional design, good choices on the part of political leaders, and sufficient resources, effective state institutions with necessary state capacity will follow. Gramscians tend to sidestep questions of capacity to concentrate on the realm of ideas, cultural practices, and the ways in which individuals negotiate the “everyday state.” I posit that by linking “softer” concerns about culture and practices with “harder” questions of state formation, we might better understand the processes by which the state’s administrative institutions come to function under the challenging circumstances in which most states in the developing world find themselves.
In Sunan and Taiwan land reform was implementd by campaign, and in both the early to middle stages of the campaign were remarkably similar. Both conducted training, temporarily expanded the state bureaucracy with young recruits, and engaged in massive propaganda to convince the public of the desirability and necessity of land reform. Both also desired active rural participation in land reform. The ways in which land reform was publicly performed and rural participation invited in were very different: in Sunan participation was a mass public event that vilified targets and concluded with the merging of state and crowd while in Taiwan public participation was solicited through the procedural drama of limited public elections to Farm Tenancy Committees.
After presenting the fundamentals of Weberian-institutionalist and Gramsciian-culturalist approaches to understanding the state, this introduction suggests that it is possible to combine the two. Focusing on the unusually successful cases of state building of the “revolutionary” People’s Republic of China in Sunan and the “conservative” Republic of China in Taiwan in the early 1950s, it suggests that the “hows” of state building policy implementation are as important as the “whats.” Both regimes resorted to overlapping and shifting modalities of bureaucratic rule making and campaign mobilization, differing substantively in how these repertoires were performed and communicated to citizens at large.
Because the Chinese Communist Party had implemented land reform in the countryside and the Guomindang had signally failed to do so prior to 1949, the PRC in Sunan and the ROC in Taiwan staked much of their legitimacy on successful implementation of land reform in the early 1950s. Both presumed that land reform was popular and necessary as a base for development in the future and social justice in the present. But in neither Sunan nor Taiwan was land reform particularly popular or demanded from below; land reform was imposed from above by outsiders. In Sunan, land reform proceeded according to categories of exploiting and exploited classes developed in North China that had little to do with rural realities. In Taiwan, tenancy was already in steep decline, but the Guomindang felt it necessary to demonstrate that their peaceful and gradualist version of land reform was sharply different from the violent and extreme expropriation across the Strait
All states need competent and loyal state administrators to both reflect the state and implement its policies. Although the People’s Republic of China in Sunan and the Republic of China in Taiwan were unalterably politically opposed to each other, the ways in which they labeled and conceived of their administrators exhibited surprising overlaps. Both used ganbu (cadre) alongside more neutral terms like civil servant or state personnel in the early 1950s. Both presumed that individuals in state service needed to exhibit “virtue” (loyalty and engaging in work in the “right” way), “talent” (functional and technical competence) and continuous self-cultivation. The two regimes diverged in how they fostered these positive attributes in their state administrators: the PRC in Sunan sent thousands for party-mandated training, and selected “talent” according to enthusiasm and conducting campaigns in the right way while the ROC in Taiwan was enamoured of regular systems of examination and annual evaluation for entry and promotion.
This is an ambitious comparative study of regime consolidation in the 'revolutionary' People's Republic of China and the 'conservative' Republic of China (Taiwan) in the years following the communist victory against the nationalists on the Chinese mainland in 1949. Julia C. Strauss argues that accounting for these two variants of the Chinese state solely in terms of their divergent ideology and institutions fails to recognise their similarities and their relative successes. Both, after all, emerged from a common background of Leninist party organization amid civil war and foreign invasion. However, by the mid-1950s they were on clearly different trajectories of state-building and development. Focusing on Sunan and Taiwan, Strauss considers state personnel, the use of terror and land reform to explore the evolution of these revolutionary and conservative regimes between 1949 and 1954. In so doing, she sheds important new light on twentieth-century political change in East Asia, deepening our understanding of state formation.
On a random Tuesday in May 2019, I found myself in Shanghai's Pudong International Airport, waiting in a fortunately short and quickly moving immigration line prior to a return flight home. Just to the right was an immigration desk with what appeared to be a new sign: a “Belt-and-Road” channel (Yidai yilu tongdao). There was no one behind the BRI desk. I was intrigued by this, but of course did not dare to take a photograph of the sign in a restricted zone. Twenty minutes later I attempted to log on from the airline lounge, and ended with failure. The relevant two-step process now involved a passport scan, the receipt of a registration number that required inputting an (overseas) mobile number and receiving SMS verification with further password. The juxtaposition of the fast-track but empty BRI immigration desk and the clunky double verification procedure to get online at all seemed to encapsulate much China's current position in the world.