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China: The 1950s
Country Study > Chapter 6 > Agriculture > Agricultural Policies > The 1950s

THE 1950S

During the 1950s the government of the new People's Republic made a concerted effort to redistribute land more equitably. Although many peasants owned part or all of the small holdings they farmed before 1949, tenancy was common, especially in south China. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) implemented land reforms in areas under its control even before 1949, and subsequently landlords and wealthy peasants became targets of party attack. Their elimination as a class was a major aim of the land reform movement begun under the Agrarian Reform Law of June 28, 1950. Collectivization of agriculture, which was accomplished in several stages, began about 1952.

The first stage of land reform was characterized by mutual aid teams. The mutual aid system was kept simple at first, involving only the temporary sharing of labor and some capital; individual households remained the basic unit of ownership and production. In 1954 mutual aid teams were organized with increasing rapidity into agricultural producers' cooperatives, which differed from mutual aid teams in that tools, draft animals, and labor were shared on a permanent basis. Cooperative members retained ownership of their land but secured a share in the cooperative by staking their plots along with those of other members in the common land pool. By 1956 the transformation of mutual aid teams into agricultural cooperatives was nearly complete. By the end of that year, moreover, the great majority of cooperatives had moved to a still higher stage of collectivization, having become advanced producers' cooperatives. These cooperatives contrasted with those of the earlier stage in that members no longer earned income based on shares of land owned. Instead, collective farm profits were distributed to members primarily on the basis of labor contributions. The average cooperative was made up of 170 families and more than 700 people. Although small private plots were permitted, most of the land was owned collectively by the cooperative. Another development in this period was the establishment of state farms in which land became the property of the state.

This degree of collectivization was achieved with much less turmoil than had occurred during collectivization in the Soviet Union. As in the Soviet Union, however, investment in the agricultural sector was kept low relative to industrial investment because planners chose to achieve more rapid growth of basic industries. But collectivization did not prevent the growth of agricultural production; grain production, for example, increased by 3.5 percent a year under the First Five-Year Plan (1953-57). Growth was achieved mainly through the intensified use of traditional agricultural techniques, together with some technical improvements.

Once collectivization was achieved and agricultural output per capita began to increase, the leadership embarked on the extremely ambitious programs of the Great Leap Forward of 1958-60, much larger units with an average of 5,400 households and a total of 20,000 to 30,000 members on average. The production targets were not accompanied by a sufficient amount of capital and modern inputs such as fertilizer; rather, they were to be reached in large measure by heroic efforts on the part of the peasants.

Substantial effort was expended during the Great Leap Forward on large-scale but often poorly planned capital construction projects, such as irrigation works. Because of the intense pressure for results, the rapidity of the change, and the inexperience and resistance of many cadres and peasants, the Great Leap Forward soon ran into difficulties. The peasants became exhausted from the unremitting pressure to produce. The inflation of production statistics, on the theory that accuracy mattered less than political effect, resulted in extravagant claims. Disruption of agricultural activity and transportation produced food shortages. In addition, the weather in 1959-61 was unfavorable, and agricultural production declined sharply.

Data as of July 1987

Last Updated: July 1987

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for China was first published in 1987. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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