Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Edwin E. Moïse
Land Reform in China and North Vietnam
Consolidating the Revolution at the Village Level

Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1983. xiv, 305 pp. ISBN 0-8078-1547-0.
In both China and North Vietnam, land reform programs designed to break the power of traditional village elite, recruit new village leaders from among the peasants, and distribute wealth (especially land) from the elite to the poor, were very important parts of the Communist revolution. The ethnically Chinese areas of China underwent land reform between 1946 and 1953, and the ethnically Vietnamese areas of North Vietnam between 1953 and 1956.

During World War II the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had stressed the united front against the Japanese, rather than class struggle. But class struggle was starting to revive by the late stages of the war, and revived very much after 1945. By late 1947 and early 1948, in substantial areas of North and Northeast China, the CCP was carrying out a very radical land reform--extreme in the numbers of executions, extreme in the taking of land not just from real landlords but also from people only moderately (if at all) wealthier than their neighbors, and extreme in the paranoia with which those running the campaign purged village-level Communist Party branches of suspected landlord agents.

By mid 1948 the program was moderating in all of these respects, and it was under these more moderate policies that most of China underwent land reform in the following years. But these policies were "more moderate" only by comparison with what had gone before; hundreds of thousands of landlords were still executed. In my study of this later period of the land reform, I have focused on the Central-South Region, and especially on the province of Guangdong.

The Communist Party in Vietnam had followed united front policies during the early years of its war for independence against the French, but was shifting to class struggle by the late stages of that war. A formal land reform campaign began on a small scale at the end of 1953, and then spread; most of the villages of North Vietnam were covered in the final year of the campaign, from mid-1955 to mid-1956. This final year was also the most radical period, with many peasants falsely labelled as landlords and subjected to the confiscation of their land, and many Communist Party members purged from village-level party branches on false charges that they were landlords or landlord agents. Substantial numbers of people were executed, though not the huge numbers later claimed by some anti-Communist propagandists. In the latter half of 1956, the party recognized that it had made serious errors; a campaign to correct the errors lasted into 1958.

This study is based mainly on contemporary Chinese and Vietnamese sources, some read in the original languages, some in translation.
Contents:Preface xiii Abbreviations xvii Chapter 1: Introduction 3 The Logic of Land Reform 10 Some Crucial Problems 15 Terminology 19 Chapter 2: The Background to Land Reform in China 23 Geography 23 Land Tenure and Wealth 27 Early CCP Land Policies 33 The Shift to the Northwest 37 The United Front 38 Chapter 3: Land Reform from 1945 to 1948 43 Rectification 51 The Outline Land Law 55 Implementing the Law 62 Chapter 4: Moderation in the New Liberated Areas 75 Establishing Control in the South 86 Reduction of Rent and Interest 91 Organizational Development 96 Chapter 5: The Land Reform Program of 1950 102 Chapter 6: Guangdong and the Central-South Region 116 The Central-South Region 116 The Preliminaries to Land Reform in Guangdong 118 The Progress of Land Reform in Guangdong 122 The Leftward Shift of Late 1950 124 Obstacles to Land Reform in Guangdong 132 Imposition from Above 134 Chapter 7: The Results of Land Reform in China 138 Economic Results 138 Political Results 141 Chapter 8: The Background to Land Reform in Vietnam 146 Geographical Units 146 Social Structure and Land Tenure 147 The Vietnamese Revolution 152 Early DRV Agrarian Policies 155 Results of DRV Agrarian Policies up to 1953 159 Chapter 9: The Beginning of Mass Mobilization 167 Rectification 167 Mass Mobilization is Announced 170 Implementation 176 Chapter 10: The Land Reform Proper, 1953-1956 178 The Land Reform Law 178 The Experimental Wave of Land Reform 190 Land-Reform Wave One 191 The Geneva Accords 192 Land-Reform Waves Two and Three 195 The Climax: Land-Reform Waves Four and Five 201 The Reexamination Campaign 203 Chapter 11: Immediate Effects of the Land Reform 205 Poor Peasants and Laborers 210 Middle Peasants 211 Rich Peasants 211 The Landlords 212 Despots and Executions 216 The Role of Women 223 Production 224 Fundamental Errors 226 The Question of Foreign Influence 234 Chapter 12: The Correction of Errors 237 For Correction on a Broad Scale: The Tenth Plenum and the Giap Report 242 The Development of Correction 250 Conflict in the Villages 252 The Quynh luu Riots 258 Reclassification 260 Taxation 267 Recent Judgments 268 Chapter 13: Concluding Remarks 269 Land Tenure and Land Redistribution 269 The Problem of Class 272 Law and Policy 275 Correct Policy and Errors 277 Glossary 283 Bibliography 289 Index 297

Errata: The information that is available today, about the land reform in North Vietnam, is more plentiful and more reliable than the information that was available when I wrote this book. It is now apparent that I was seriously wrong on one issue: the question of Chinese influence. I argued, at the end of Chapter 11, that reports that Chinese advisers had pushed the Vietnamese into erroneous land reform policies must be mistaken, since the record of land reform in China from 1949 to 1953 made it plain that the Chinese knew better than to make those mistakes. The logic still makes sense to me, but the conclusion was wrong. Chinese advisers did push the Vietnamese into making mistakes that the Chinese had not made in the most recent years of their own land reform. I still don't really know why. One possibility is that fairly sophisticated Chinese land reform policies got "dumbed down" in the process of translation and transmission to the Vietnamese. On page 217, I say that President Richard Nixon estimated that 500,000 people had been executed during the North Vietnamese land reform, and that another 500,000 had died in slave labor camps. My source was the account of Nixon's news conference of July 27, 1972, that appeared the following day in the New York Times. The New York Times had apparently had a typo; what Nixon had actually said was that 50,000 had been executed and 500,000 had died in slave labor camps.

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