The Communist Record

A Texan born in Elkhart in 1907 and educated at Texas Christian University, TILLMAN DURDIN first went to the Orient in 1930 as a reporter on the staff of the Shanghai EVENING POST. He joined the staff of the New York TIMES in 1937, rose to be its chief Southeast Asia correspondent, and today has his headquarters in Hong Kong.

ANY assessment of the first ten years of Communist rule in China is a problem in weighing both methods and material results.

Methods have been ruthless, devious, and destructive of traditional human values. The most serious political weaknesses and tensions in China today stem from the means the Communists have used to establish their system and maintain their power.

Material results, on the other hand, have been remarkable and impressive. By Draconian controls and pressures, the regime has forced, and sometimes inspired, the masses of China into productivity and social change on a scale unsurpassed, in similar circumstances, by any other country.

In 1949 the Communists took over a country devastated by more than eight years of Japanese invasion and three decades of civil war. Only one third of the nation’s railways and highways were usable. Many cities were still littered with war rubble; in the countryside, neglected river-control systems gave way every year before floodwaters that ruined vast areas of fertile crop land. Agricultural output had slumped, and famine was endemic. Uncontrolled inflation had impoverished new sections of the population and made economic rehabilitation impossible. The few industries — fewer still after Russian occupation forces had removed much of the machinery from Manchuria, the country’s main industrial base — functioned only sporadically.

Today, the shambles of 1949 have long since been repaired. This year, Communist China will become an important producer of steel, with a scheduled output of twelve million tons of industrial-grade steel, thirteen times the peak output in 1943. Today, the country mines four to five times more coal annually than during the best preCommunist year and claims to have surpassed the output of the United States. The regime maintains that Shanghai alone now turns out more textiles than all of the United Kingdom. Communist Chinese factories make industrial chemicals, locomotives, power generators, machine tools, automobiles, steel plants, airplanes, ships, electronic equipment — a wide range of the products of an industrialized economy.

This year, the Chinese Communists plan — with reasonable prospects of success — to double the grain crop of 1936, the best year for total agricultural output before 1949. By the end of 1959, Peking claims, total industrial output will have increased 10.7 times and total agricultural production 1.5 times over the 1949 level. The government trumpets the goal of achieving a higher productive capacity than Britain within, at the least, ten years.

Operating railway and highway mileage has been tripled since 1949. Airlines and telephone links now bind together almost all parts of the country, including regions that ten years ago were accessible only on foot. Old cities have doubled in population; Peking today has six million people, Shanghai, ten million. Scores of places that were only little towns and villages ten years ago are now crowded metropolises — steel-making Paotow in Mongolia, oil-producing Karamai in Sinkiang, and the big new Kwangtung port of Chankiang, for example.

Physical achievements also include vast control works along rivers whose potential for watering crops, but also for devastatingly flooding them, has often decided the rhythm of Chinese history. Vast new installations — including the huge Sanmen Gorge dam and hydroelectric station, among the biggest of their kinds in the world — have virtually tamed the terrible Yellow River, formerly called “China’s Sorrow” because of its unpredictable periods of destructiveness. The mighty Yangtze and the treacherous Huai have also been curbed with dams, canals, and embankments. Nationwide irrigation and flood-control facilities have been developed to the stage where crop damage of the kind and extent that formerly led to widespread famine no longer exists.

Through the work of millions of new settlers from the overpopulated coastal provinces, agricultural and industrial developments are creating a new economic empire in China’s Northwest. From Inner Mongolia to Sinkiang province, men are plowing new land, building new factories, and planting shrubs and forest belts to push back the desert and curb the damage of wind and flood. A new line through Sinkiang this year linked this vast, rich province by rail with Russia to the west and with coastal China to the east.

By their recent admission that they appreciably overstated 1958 production totals, the Chinese Communists have themselves acknowledged that their statistics are unreliable. However, Western economists accept as roughly correct Peking’s claim to have achieved an annual rate of economic growth of 8 or 9 per cent during the first Five Year Plan, 1952 to 1957. The “great leap” years of 1958 and 1959 have brought claims of a still more rapidly accelerated development. Even after its recent downward revision of outputs and targets, Peking estimates 1958 agricultural production at 25 per cent above 1957 and has scheduled a further 10 per cent rise in 1959. The Communists claim to have expanded heavy industry 103 per cent in 1958 and have targeted another 25.9 per cent of growth for all types of industry in 1959.

Allowing for Communist exaggerations, it is still possible, on the basis of known factors, to put China’s rate of economic growth in the last two years above first Five Year Plan achievements. This would establish a rate of economic expansion for Communist China as high as any other nation has ever attained, possibly higher. The record is especially remarkable in view of the country’s low level of technical capability and experience ten years ago.

COMMUNIST China can cite other striking attainments. A nation that was less than 20 per cent literate in 1949 now claims that three quarters of its citizens can read and write. From primary classes to university, 100 million students are in schools of some kind — four times the 1949 total. Universities and other institutions of higher education now graduate nearly 100,000 students annually, compared with a few tens of thousands in 1949. Fourteen thousand students have been sent for advanced training in Russia alone; of these, 8500 have completed their courses and are back serving as experts in their homeland.

Foreign-trained and domestically trained Chinese engineers, scientists, and managers — far from numerous in pre-Communist China — are rapidly taking over the specialized tasks of the country; the consultants from Russia and other nations, who in the first years of the Chinese Communist regime were counted in the thousands, are now numbered by the hundreds. Communist China has an atomic reactor and a program of nuclear energy and general scientific development on a massive scale.

Welfare amenities such as sanitation, housing, and health services have been subordinated, as far as state expenditure is concerned, to capital construction and production. But great progress has, nevertheless, been made in these fields, largely through mobilization of mass effort. Athletics, popular drama, newspapers, pamphlets, magazines, books — useful for propaganda and increased productivity — have been extensively developed. The whole world knows by now of China’s dogged, never-ending, and partially successful campaign to eradicate four pests — flies, mosquitoes, rats, and grain-eating sparrows.

It should not be assumed, because of the great emphasis in Peking on material accomplishments and the multiplication of facilities for the masses, that achievement in these spheres has been the exclusive or even the main preoccupation in the first ten years of the Communist regime in China. Production and social programs have been only a part of a more fundamental concern with consolidation of Communist political power and the new, all-embracing Communist system. This has meant uprooting the ideas, relationships, and privileged classes in the old society, remolding minds by the hundreds of millions, establishing the full geographical unity of the country, and reasserting its long-lost military power and international influence.

COMMUNISM came to power in China through force and the effective use and mobilization of the massive discontent felt by peasants, bourgeoisie, and intellectuals. Its triumph derived, in a sense, from revulsion against the chaos that characterized the final, ineffective efforts of the Kuomintang rule. It was also the instrument of a bitter, resentful nationalism bred among sensitive and proud Chinese by a century of Western and Japanese aggression and economic exploitation.

The process of Communist consolidation was, therefore, at once political, military, and xenophobic. Red armies swept to the farthest reaches of territory that had once been Imperial China (with the exception of those Mongolian and Siberian regions under Soviet domination) and brought unity to the land mass stretching from the Amur River and the China Sea through Tibet and Sinkiang to Russian Turkestan, for the first time since the rule of Emperor Kang Hsi.

The momentum of this Communist-led upsurge was finally checked by United States and allied troops in Korea and by American and Kuomintang Chinese resistance in the Formosa Strait, leaving the island of Taiwan outside Communist China. The strong nationalist fervor generated by reunification and resurgence of Chinese power under the Communists has been a major factor in their appeal to the people of China and in their ability to enforce Communist rule.

“The army is the chief component of the political power of the state,” Mao Tse-tung has said. In the first decade of Chinese Communist rule, Mao and his colleagues have carefully nurtured military power and given the Communist armed forces special treatment to keep them a loyal instrument of the Party and of its domestic and foreign policy. Communist China’s military force — a regular army of 2.5 million men, a navy, and an air force, all backed by a semimilitarized adult population providing 200 million militia men — is today one of the world’s most formidable. For the Communists, it is a principal manifestation of China’s return to greatness, an instrument of strength in foreign policy and of defiance of foreign powers that had previously humiliated the Chinese nation.

Peking has, at the same time, one of the world’s most multifaceted armies. It has been used to pioneer, control, and develop sparsely inhabited and often rebellious border areas; to build networks of irrigation and communications; to write plays and poetry; to perform “shock" jobs like collecting manure, harvesting grains, and “tidying up” the communes. It has also been an important police and power instrument to help Peking enforce its political pattern and policies.

The Chinese Communists have developed their system by methods combining great harshness with subtlety and flexibility. They have carried out main programs and policies by a succession of nationwide, high-pressure, mass campaigns and have enforced individual and group conformity and obedience by continuous thought control and surveillance.

In the first great campaign of 1950—1951, which linked distribution of lands to peasants with liquidation of landlords and all other individuals considered actually or potentially counterrevolutionary, Communist cadres aroused the rural and urban masses into vengeful mobs, or people’s courts, that condemned millions to either death, imprisonment, or the status of propertyless pariahs.

In subsequent campaigns — such as those to brainwash intellectuals, to eliminate private business and indoctrinate businessmen, to build massive irrigation facilities, to liberate women and repudiate old social customs, to achieve high production targets, to collectivize farms, to rectify the Party and reindoctrinate and rediscipline the whole people, to enforce the recent economic great leap forward, and to form the communes — the Communists have used somewhat less terror and depended on more refined forms of pressure and exhortation. But sentences to forced labor or loss of income and status are still frequent penalties for noncooperation. Individuals judged to be engaged in actual counterrevolutionary subversion sometimes still receive death sentences after mass trials.

It is Chinese Communist tactics to carry most campaigns to excess, a process heightened sometimes by local cadres who are anxious to avoid the charge of lack of zeal. Many of these campaigns have distorted and delayed progress instead of helping it. However, Chinese Communist leaders have been astute in gauging the ultimate endurance level of the population and recognizing mistakes in time to pause before disaster and modify the program — the famous Leninist “two steps forward and one step back.” The initial great purge of 1950-1951 eventually caused such nationwide revulsion that Mao Tse-tung himself admitted it had gone too far. He called a halt, but not until the movement had achieved an initial brutal shattering of the old society and established an all-pervasive atmosphere of fear that has never been dissipated.

Ten years after its establishment, the Communist regime still has no definitive code of laws, no real civil liberties. Courts are instruments of current policies and programs; court functionaries often go into fields and factories to investigate and try noncooperative individuals, sometimes in supervised group discussions that provide indoctrination for the masses and discipline for the accused. The government controls occupation, travel, and place of residence; all mass communication media are instruments of propaganda for whatever line the regime wishes to emphasize at any given moment.

While giving lip service to freedom of religion — particularly Asian religions — the Communists have forced Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians into officially dominated associations intended mainly to serve production and facilitate state control. Believers must affirm acceptance of Communist doctrines and state policies, which frequently run directly counter to their faith.

As with religious groups, the 35 million minority peoples — fifty-two varieties, including the large Muslim Turki and Hui communities, the Buddhist Mongols and Tibetans, the Chuangs, Miaos, Shans, Thais, and Koreans — have been subjected to Communist ideology and regimentation. The “autonomous” minority areas, covering 60 per cent of the territory of China, with many of its richest mineral deposits, have considerably less real autonomy than the minority groups in Russia. While preserving tribal art and folkways as relics in museums, books, and cultural troupes, the Communists are, in fact, rapidly wiping out old beliefs and customs and turning the minority areas into communized hans, ruled as directly from Peking as is any other part of the country.

Overturning the old social order, based on Confucian precepts of family loyalties, filial piety, respect for age, supremacy of male over female, and veneration for ancestors and tradition, the Communists have reshaped China’s millions into groupings determined by occupation, age, sex, political relationships, and place of housing. They have put the Chinese people under constant pressure to subordinate all other loyalties and acknowledge allegiance only to the Party and state.

In a calculated effort to create a new, loyal, Communist-minded generation, the Communists have given youth special attention and privilege. Private property has been swept away, and a nation of peasant cultivators, landlords, and entrepreneurs forced into the characteristic Communist framework of state-run and state-controlled enterprise.

THE formal structure of the Chinese regime today is the typical monolithic, highly centralized Communist system, patterned after the Soviet Union, with a cabinet, or executive branch, under Premier Chou En-lai and a chief of state, or chairman, now Liu Shao-chi. Above all and within all is the Party, under Chairman Mao Tse-tung, with its twelve million members, its Communist Youth League, Young Pioneers, and satellite groupings such as the Labor Federation, Women’s Federation, and so on.

With politics in command, as Communist spokesmen incessantly emphasize, the nearly 650 million minutely controlled Chinese devote themselves, first, to conformity within the new political and administrative pattern and, second, to production. Peking’s economic policy is predicated on creating as quickly as possible a powerful industrialized state. Therefore, the preponderance of investment has gone into heavy industry, and heavy industrial production has forged ahead far faster than agriculture or light industry. Yet, through their internal use and export, it is the products of agriculture, of minerals, handicrafts, and light industry that have largely financed economic expansion.

During this last ten-year period, Communist China has had less than the equivalent of 500 million American dollars in foreign credits to assist in its economic upbuilding. The remainder of the capital goods used in its economic program has been paid for out of exports. The exchange of products with Russia, the source of 50 per cent of Communist China’s imports, accounts for an average annual total of $200 million in Russian materials and technical personnel.

The burden on China’s agricultural sector is thus enormous. This was a major reason for the formation of the communes, the 26,000 new social-political-economic units in rural areas organized in 1958 from the merger of 750,000 collective farms.

As with other Communist campaigns, the drive to organize communes exceeded original directives and led to overcentralization of control and an extreme regimentation of China’s peasant population of 500 million. Members of farm families became hardly more than units in work gangs, fed in communal kitchens, shifted capriciously from place to place, with wives separated from husbands and children put in nurseries, kindergartens, and often boarding schools.

The “tidying up” of 1959, carried out with army participation and supervision, has turned back most production and the control of individual incomes to subordinate units of the communes - the production brigades, roughly equivalent to the former collective farms. Eating at mess halls and sending children away from home have been made voluntary, although strong pressures are still exercised to induce people to use the communal restaurants and put younger children in communal establishments so that women can be free for full-time farming and other labor outside the home. Small family plots, taken away in last year’s organization rush, have been restored; peasant families can grow vegetables and raise pigs and chickens for sale to the state and for a rehabilitated free market of a limited, supervised nature. The central commune committees, however, still dispose of labor for commune-wide projects, get a proportion of production brigade earnings, and supervise overall production plans. Commune members last year were put into military-type units, and able-bodied adults, at least nominally, made members of the militia. In this year’s reorganization, militarization has been modified and de-emphasized. A revised income system puts more importance on individual work capacity, permitting higher earnings for greater effort.

Despite the confusion attending its organization and the bitter opposition to it on the part of the farm population, the modified commune system now seems to be operating with considerable effectiveness, at least in terms of production. Khrushchev has said that Russia tried it once and found the system unsuitable. But Chinese leaders show no signs of abandoning it. Indeed, they still speak of eventually returning to centralization, extending the commune system to the cities and making the communes the basis for a Communist, as distinct from the present Socialist, pattern of society.

THE bold, seemingly inexorable experiment that is Communist China, with all its strength, has permanent undertones of weakness. The forced pace of economic expansion, falling most heavily on the sectors of agriculture and light industry, has prevented any considerable rise in individual living standards. Today, basic foods and clothing are still severely rationed, and the refugees that escape constantly into Hong Kong tell stories of chronic undernourishment, food queues, and general shortage of goods.

The Communists claim that they have kept availability of consumer goods far ahead of population pressures and, indeed, that by putting everybody to work they have made an asset of China’s huge manpower resources. As mechanization proceeds, however, China’s rapidly expanding population must become an increasingly serious problem.

The very determination of Chinese Communist leaders to build in a hurry is dangerous. Extravagant planning in 1956 led to inflation and a serious unbalance and drop in production in 1957. The excesses of the great leap and the communes in 1958 resulted in 1959 in the confession of missed targets and distorted development.

Pressures fall hardest on the local cadres in case of any failures. There is much evidence that local cadres are weary, not only from expending almost superhuman effort but from being blamed when anything goes wrong. The 1959 campaign against rightist opportunists may be aimed against the cadres’ and local Party members’ discontent; this discontent may also extend to high Communist personalities basically opposed to the impetuosity of the great leap and to policies that reserve material rewards for the hard-working people to a distant future.

The recent shift in leadership of the armed forces from Marshal Peng Teh-huai to Marshal Lin Piao seems also to reflect dissatisfaction in army ranks — caused possibly by the extensive use of army troops as a work force. There is a feeling of humiliation among higher officers compelled to serve for periods in the ranks, and discontent among the army rank and file, which has been largely recruited from the peasantry.

No really grave rift has occurred in the Chinese Communist leadership since the Communists conquered mainland China in 1949. There still appears to be effective collective solidarity, but Mao Tse-tung is aging. A crisis of unity cannot be ruled out. The extreme control of the people by the Peking regime makes popular revolt unlikely. The most probable way in which disruption could occur would be through a split among leaders or between power groups. At present, however, the government of Communist China seems firmly in power.

Complacent Westerners should not forget that, for many centuries before modern times, this giant nation — the Middle Kingdom — excelled all countries in cultural attainments, political stability, military prowess, and economic wealth. Today, the natural resources of the second greatest national land mass on the globe and the industriousness and creative genius of a people that make up one quarter of the world’s population still exist.

If unity and the rate of economic expansion continue, this ancient land will rank, within ten to twenty years, with the United States and Russia among the great powers.