Chinese Culture and Society class EAS340
Updated: Nov 13
Q2. Meisner argues that all classes were weak in the late imperial and early republican periods. Mao on the other hand presents quite a different view in his 1926 essay on social classes in China.(“ Analysis of Classes” May 11 Readings) Compare Meisner and Mao’s analyses of classes in this period, in particular as they relate to the prospects for social revolution. How does their two discussions of class help to explain the outcome of the early Communist Party efforts to build a revolutionary movement in China? (See Meisner, Chapters 1 and 3) Q3.In “On People’s Democratic Dictatorship: (1949) Mao speaks of the need to transform people’s values and rid them of feudal and bourgeois attitudes and beliefs. Felix Wermheuer discusses some of the mechanisms and policies adopted to transform society. Based on Liang Heng’s Son of the Revolution (Chapters 1-4), how successful do you think those efforts were?
2. During the late imperial and early republican periods, China had the potential for social revolution and was in an era of social changes and unrest. Meisner's and Mao's different views of class resulted in their different positions. Meisner believed that all classes at that time were weak because he looked at the changes of class in China from an objective perspective. Meisner analyzes the contradictions within China's various classes and their contradictions with foreign capitalism. He stratified China’s social classes into imperial landlords, bourgeoisie and proletariat according to the western capitalist revolution’s model. He thought that both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat in China were weak because they were in their infancy and had no military power of their own. However, Mao Zedong, from the perspective of the early Communist Party in China, broke academic norms and integrated grounded social realities into his research. Mao categorized classes by analyzing the desires and fears of different classes in China. Both Meisner and Mao admitted imperialism as one of the backlashes against social revolutions. Meisner acknowledged the necessity of imperialism to create ideological innovation in China. Imperialism created the situation for the modern revolutions as it was the major obstacle for modernization. Mao criticized imperialism, especially the landlord and comprador classes, which depended on foreign capital. While Chinese people suffered from oppression and exploitation, they were also angry about losing sovereignty and territorial integrity. The CCP(Chinese Communist Party) provided leadership to help the industrial proletariat in urban areas at the early stage of the communist revolution and then divided China's class into revolutionary and counter-revolutionary forces. Later, they expanded the revolutionary class, incorporating all oppressed classes as the revolution allies, like the peasants, permit bourgeoisie and national capitalists to carry out nationwide revolutions. The CCP also enlarged the enemy group. Those who were related to imperialism, like warlords, compradors and landlords were all taken as the enemy. This class division was to gather more forces for the revolution. Meisner and Mao Zedong mainly divided China into three classes: the bourgeoisie, the landlord class, and the peasant class. Firstly, the bourgeoisie, Meisner argues, was weak because China's modern capitalism was nascent and heavily dependent on external colonial powers. With the success of the Northern Expedition War, while the KMP and the CCP worked together to eliminate the monarchy, the political chaos and division intensified, which made the bourgeoisie dependent more on the imperialist foreign powers for political and financial support. Mao thought that the Chinese bourgeoisie was a complicated group that shall not be simply defined as a coherent class. He divided the bourgeoisie into the middle class (the national bourgeoisie) and the petty bourgeoisie. The national bourgeoisie is recognized by Mao for its sense of patriotism as they carried the responsibility for strengthening China by modernizing the industrial production system. Mao pointed out that the national bourgeoisie was a useful ally of the communist party for their economic support.. However, he did not appreciate their expectation of setting up a capitalist nation-state. This was contrary to the realization of social revolution by the CCP. Therefore, Mao divided the society into revolutionary and counter-revolutionary camps and tried to make the middle class "friends " of the communist party but not comrades. For the petty bourgeoisie, students and yeomanry, for example, the CCP also tried to maintain a friendship with them, driven by fear of foreign influence or the economic pursuit of making more money. As for the landlord class, Meisner took them as a weak class because they continue to degenerate in the empire's fall and pursue the faded traditional economic exploitation. They were parasitic to the peasants and did not have the faith to thoroughly reform like Meiji Restoration in Japan. The contradiction between landlords and peasants was growing, and the peasants started spontaneous resistance, which was the embryonic form of the land movement led by the CCP later. On the other hand, Mao criticized the landlord class as "enemies" to be defeated because its survival and development were parasitic. As peasants' resistance became increasingly severe, their resistance gradually became radical. Thus, when the China Communist Party organized revolutionary movements of workers in urban areas under the external stimulation of the October Revolution, Mao began to incorporate peasants into the revolutions in rural areas, struggling against the landlord class. For the peasant class, Meisner believes that the Chinese traditional social and economic structure made the peasants at the bottom of society and had no social and economic rights. Therefore, the CCP supported the peasants and the proletariat to obtain their rights while independent of the social class. Mao believed that both the semi-proletariat and the proletariat of the peasant class were the major force of China’s social revolution. But early CCP's democratic revolution followed under the guidance of communist internationals, so they couldn't lead the revolution because the leaders from the Comintern failed to recognize the power of the peasant class. Finally, when KMP's lightning strikes almost wiped out the CCP in urban areas, the surviving communists flee to rural areas and started a new rural-central revolution pattern. Since then, the CCP has learned not to be subject to orthodox Marxist dogmatism and is committed to maintaining its own political and military independence. This is why MAO's essay analyzes how the views of various classes on social revolution can help the Communist Party regain its strength from the perspective of China itself.
3. "The fundamental driving force of MAO's China was transitioning from a semi-colonial underdeveloped country to state socialism." Since both the feudal and bourgeoisie class failed to lead China’s reform in the modern era, the Communist Party took the role of reconstructing China into a modernized democratic state under the Party’s dictatorship. MAO desired to change people's values and ideology by getting rid of old ideas and receiving new education to lay the foundation of developing Chinese Marxism. But Mao kept using class to rally his supporters, too afraid of his political enemies regaining political power. Moreover, the leftward tilt of the leaders made the "class" dogmatic and formalistic. The mass at the grass-root level blindly follows the trend so "education" and "remodelling" become insulting the people who were not considered to hold correct political faiths on a personal level. Due to the lack of supervision and the government's infighting, some people even use the policy for personal revenge. This is precisely in response to "Marx's introduction of communism based on a backward means of production would only 'generalize the dejection' existed in pre-revolutionary society." At that time, China, on the one hand, pursued propaganda and appearances too much in pursuit of productivity, and on the other hand, tried to establish utopian socialism before industrialization was mature. Felix Wermheuer discussed the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) 's policies regarding hierarchy, gender, ethnicity, resource distribution, etc. I will combine the specific case of Liang Heng from the household registration (Agricultural versus Non-agricultural) and class status (combining occupational Status, family background and Political labels) to discuss the problems in the concrete implementation of measures. The household registration policy divides farmers in the countryside and industrial workers in cities into two classes. According to people’s household registration status, they were under separated resource allocation systems. The resource allocation systems were not fair. Taking food commodities as an example, the CCP divides farmers into production teams to do agricultural works and the party government would purchase agricultural products uniformly. Liang Heng's mother was a senior intellectual in the city but became unrecognizable after being sent to work in the countryside as she was not doing any agricultural works that could be evaluated in the rural allocation system. Also, even though the workers in urban areas did not have to do any agricultural labor, they were supported with sufficient food coming from the rural areas and the overall living conditions in the city would be much better as farmers only got food without nutrition. Also, peasants had no actual control of power even though they were said to be appreciated by the Party state which provided them with high political status. CCP was a planner of the state that had control over all the classes and decided to primeraltize industrial development. Only "errant" urbanites would be punished to work in the countryside and constantly review themselves to achieve the purpose of "ideological education."
Moreover, urban workers enjoyed a public social welfare system including elements like education, medical care, and pensions while the rural peasants didn’t have access to. Worse still, due to the weak mobility of the household registration system, people with rural
household registration were not able to gain access to the social welfare system unless they had special connections with the urban dwellers, which could help them change their household registration status. Writer Liang Heng was able to attend school only because of their urban class. He mentioned that most rural people wanted to marry urban citizens to have the legal right to live in the city. In the early stage of the transition from agricultural to industrialized society, farmers shoulder the burden of development.
The household registration system laid the political and social foundation of class division and conflicts between urban and rural people. Also, during the Cultural Revolution, the class segregation and hostility were enhanced by the introduction of the class status policy, which divided people in cities into different statuses according to their family origin, the personal status and the individual political performance. People were encouraged to involve themselves in reporting others’ potential to conduct inappropriate political behaviours by labelling each other with ‘anti-revolutionary’ political identities. Innocent patriots were forced to self-examine the "capitalist" label, bewildered by the vast gap between their loyalty, faith and reality. "For people of bad family origins, It was important to draw a line and break with their actual relatives." Liang Heng and his family had to criticize their problematic mother for working and studying like normal. On one side were their loved ones; on the other were their future and mainstream ideology. They were anxious, angry and helpless to doubt themselves constantly. Due to the leaders' excessive pursuit of power, the people consciously constructed the reality of "class" and imagined imaginary enemies. As the general direction of society was oppressive when almost everyone was exercising the meaningless "class labelling" and "transformation" that hurt people's minds and bodies which performed the communist ideologies in dogmatic ways, Mao’s effort to transform people's values were not successful in China’s social development.