Monday, July 11, 2022

New China (1960)

Book Review from the July 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

China—New Age and New Outlook, by Ping-Chia Kuo. Penguin Books. 3s. 6d.

In this eminently readable book the author discusses the great changes which are going on in China. He seeks to appraise and interpret current developments as a stage in the broad sweep of Chinese history and to search out the trends that have led to the triumph of the Communist Party, and to discuss the problems involved in this process. He takes in the pertinent points in China's past as well as what he can judge of its future. He says that with the collapse of the feudal system in 200 B.C., land was freely bought and sold and that this led to a concentration of ownership in the hands of the new privileged group and to the growing importance of the landlords as a social class. A great proportion of the peasantry continued to till the land, but did not own it, while the new class of owners exploited the peasantry.

In the course of the last twenty centuries the line of demarcation between the two segments of Chinese society became more steeply drawn. Economically, the landlords virtually controlled the tens of thousands of villages, and moreover, were the only group with the leisure to study and master politics. Thus the government had to fall back on them for the necessary personnel to operate the administrative machinery. This is why in every dynasty the Chinese government was virtually run by men of the landowning families. The tight grip on power by the landlord class was made more enduring by the adoption of Confucianism as the standard education for all officials. For twenty centuries Confucianism blocked progress and change, taught the oppressed to obey and impressed upon the minds of men the virtue of upholding the rule of the landlords. But, in recent times, the development of industry brought the seeds of change and made the collapse of the ancien régime inevitable.

The Nationalist movement, later to be led by Chiang Kai-Shek, left the landlord elite in control of the administration below country level. Thus land reform was effectively blocked. The Communist Party, on the other hand, realised that to develop the country the landlords, as a social class, must be eliminated. To obtain the support of the peasantry, they redistributed land confiscated from the landlords amongst the peasants in those out-of-the-way small sections of the country where they had seized control. This whetted the appetite for Communist Party land reform in the territory controlled by the Nationalists. The plight of the peasants was worsened by the disruption of World War II and, in 1949, the Communist Party were able to seize power on the mainland, leaving the Nationalists, backed by the U.S.A., in control of the island of Formosa. The process of modernising China has been proceeding rapidly. The large holdings of the landowners were quickly distributed amongst the peasants. Then came mutual help groups organised amongst the peasants. This was the thin edge of the wedge in converting the peasant into a landless agricultural wage worker. This primitive organisation gave way to voluntary agricultural co-operatives from which the peasant could withdraw if he so wished. Then on to the next stage—the collectivised farms and finally to the last stage, the Commune.

The Communes consist of 4,000 to 10,000 households. Their central purpose is to expand agricultural production which in turn would speed up industrialisation. The Commune makes monthly payments in the form of a basic wage classified in accordance with the graduations of the members' work performance, plus bonuses for workers who contribute more than the norm. This is clearly a system based upon the principle of “to each according to his work," a principle whose aim is to stimulate production. By making the production unit bigger the state makes it impossible for the peasants to pursue individual production except as wage-earners in the employ of the state. But the greatest benefit to production is that the Commune takes on industrial as well as agricultural functions. Perhaps the most dramatic aspect of this development has been the emergence of tens of thousands of small furnaces in the villages, producing pig iron or carbon steel and making farm implements. The fundamental force motivating Communist China’s new role in international affairs is her militant nationalism, which has advanced a new balance of power in the Far East and has helped to produce the tension in world affairs that we are now witnessing. For the moment, the author says, the addition of Soviet military material and Chinese man-power could create a giant army in case of war and this is partly responsible for the Sino-Soviet Alliance.

The author is typically Chinese in the practicality of his approach and in his logical method of thought unburdened by the religious thought typical of the average Western writer. To read this book is to glimpse an insight into the great depth of learning of its author, who incidentally is a Professor of History in an American University. Such a wealth of knowledge makes a mere amateur student of Chinese affairs like your reviewer feel humble. Yet Socialists know that Dr. Ping-Chia Kuo just does not really understand the world of which he writes. He reveals his belief that China is socialist and is ideologically opposed to the capitalist parts of the world. The Socialist sees a world of capitalism, but Dr. Kuo sees two worlds, with Socialism existing side by side with capitalism, and thinks that both, like sheep and goats on one farm, must be taught how to live together. In his book he makes various suggestions as to how this could be accomplished. What the Socialist views as merely the development of capitalism in China, he sees as “Socialist reconstruction” and he adds a plea to the United Nations to understand and befriend China in the interests of peace and goodwill. Nevertheless, to those who are interested in China as one of the possible bogey-men of the capitalist future, this is a useful book to read.
Frank Offord