How far do you agree that in the years 1949-62, communal living was more beneficial than harmful to Chinese peasants?
Communal living in the PRC consisted of MATs in 1951 with 10-20 households, APCs in 1952 with 40-50, and finally HPCs consisting of 200-300 households. One could argue that the MATs were most beneficial than harmful to the peasants as they were monitored by cadres but ultimately led by the ‘peasant association’ which gave the peasants value and created the illusion that they were in control of what they could do within these communes. It cannot be denied that the communes were beneficial for the CCP- due to the land being able to be pooled and consolidated into larger units and cultivated more efficiently than in traditional strips. However, deciding what made communal living beneficial or not ultimately lies with whether the Chinese peasants had more opportunities and autonomy over the decisions they made; which (on the whole) they did not.
Firstly, a reason for believing that in the years 1949-62 communal living was more harmful than beneficial to Chinese peasants, is because there was a stark contrast with the rights peasants had in 1951 with the MATs in regard to retaining rights of private ownership, to 1960 onwards when the HPCs meant that the peasant farmers no longer owned land or equipment. This is further strengthened by the fact that in July 1955, there was a full-scale drive from 17 million APC households to 75 million by January 1956- with only 3% farming as individuals. This therefore highlights that communal living was more harmful than beneficial to Chinese peasants in comparison to the government, because they were no longer allowed to make a personal income based on what they owned- which meant that due to the poor harvest which led to grain requisitioning, there was unrest, as the land they worked hard to cultivate was not even their property. Therefore, ‘stop, contract and develop’ was implemented to develop APCs for another 18 months, as private ownership was seen to oppose the fundamental ideologies of communism and ‘all living under the same Sun’, and Mao noticed that prior to this change, peasants were becoming like the landlords that they oppressed during the Agrarian reform of 1950, in which 700,000-3 million landlords were executed. (Back to square one).
In addition to this, another reason that communal living was more harmful than beneficial to Chinese peasants was due to the slow uptake under the APCs. For example, there was less than 2% production increase- which consequently lowered standard of living and exacerbated the issue of justice for the peasants- as they were neither allowed to farm as individuals, nor were they producing a lot now either. Enhancing this point, the fact that profits were shared out at the end of the year based on work points, meant that those contributing the most land may receive the same rewards for labour as those who gave up the least in terms of material possessions. This therefore reduced a lot of incentive for the peasants, which could have been the explanation for the low production rates, and therefore the communes were more harmful as their standard of living continued to worsen to the point where there was a famine in 1958 due to not enough being produced mainly from these communes.
However, a reason that communal living was perhaps not that bad for peasants was due to the academic opportunities that they were given i.e. an education and the free healthcare. In spite of this seeming beneficial, this mostly proved impossible due to the fact that so many people were making use of the facilities, that they were unable to cope with demand of having so many people benefiting and not that many trained medical personnel. This therefore meant that if peasants had a disease etc. they were unable to find affordable remedies, and often spread them to others, or died.
In light of the argument, although there is an argument to say that communal living for peasants between 1949 and 1962 was beneficial due to the education that they received and by the 1970’s literacy levels rising to over 70%, there was perhaps a lot more harm that was done, due to the peasants having to work extremely long hours with close to no food and production being low due to the low incentive to work caused by equal pay in spite of people working harder than others. For these reasons, I have come to a sustained conclusion that communal living was more harmful for the peasants due to the amount of restrictions i.e. no private farming, and the fact that the government seemed to benefit a lot more whilst the peasants continued to struggle.