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The people's commune (Chinese: 人民公社; pinyin: rénmín gōngshè) was the highest of three administrative levels in rural areas of the People's Republic of China during the period from 1958 to 1983 when they were replaced by townships. Communes, the largest collective units, were divided in turn into production brigades and production teams. The communes had governmental, political, and economic functions during the Cultural Revolution. The people's commune was commonly known for the collective activities within them, including labor and meal preparation, which allowed for workers to share local welfare.
The people's commune was established during the Great Leap Forward, when the Communist Party of China had the goal of surpassing the United Kingdom and the United States in terms of steel production over a short period of time. Similarly, peasants were mobilized to undertake huge water projects during the winter slack seasons in order to improve agricultural productivity.
The people's commune was made official state policy in 1958 after Mao Zedong visited an unofficial commune in Henan. The goal in creating the People's Communes was to collectivize China's agricultural and industrial economy.
In order to put this radical plan into action, Mao used the Anti-Rightist Movement to silence the right-wing of the party so he faced virtually no opposition when he finally implemented the People's communes. Mao was able to get the support of the peasantry.
Each commune was a combination of smaller farm collectives and consisted of 4,000–5,000 households. Larger communes could consist of up to 20,000 households.
In the people's commune, many things were shared. Private kitchens became redundant, and in some counties items in the private kitchen such as tables, chairs, cooking utensils and pans were contributed to the commune's kitchen. Private cooking was discouraged and supplanted by communal dining.
Many things originally owned by exclusively by landlords, such as private animals, stored grains and other food items were also contributed to the commune. They were put to different uses as assigned by the commune. Farming activities were to be centrally assigned by cadres every morning. People in the commune was assigned jobs by their commune leaders.
The communes exercised management and control of rural resources such as labor and land. Due to governmental mismanagement of resources and bad weather from 1958 to 1960 the Great Chinese Famine spread over the countryside, with food continuing to be exported to urban areas as they industrialized.
Labour models were individuals selected for special instruction in agricultural and industrial techniques, which could then be disseminated to the wider labouring population. Men and women were called on as models, and this was a way for women to enter leadership roles during the era of the People's Communes.
A meal being eaten during a state visit of Hungary to China inside a people's commune during meal hour.
A CIA film on life in a people's commune from 1958
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- Dikotter, Frank (2010). Mao's Great Famine. New York: Walker & Co. pp. 54, 60, 286, 311. ISBN 978-0-8027-7768-3.
- Cannon, T. and Jenkins, A. 1990 The geography of contemporary China: The impact of Deng Xiaoping's decade. Routledge: London.
- Hershatter, Gail (2010). The Gender of Memory. Rural Women in China's Collective Past. University of California Press. pp. 210–236.
References and further reading
- Yang, Dali. Calamity and Reform in China: State, Rural Society, and Institutional Change since the Great Leap Famine. Stanford University Press, 1996.
- Schurmann, Franz (1966). Ideology and Organization in Communist China. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 9780520011519.