A cornerstone of the CCP’s transition to socialism was the redistribution of land to the peasants. The 28 June

A farmer denouncing a landlord during fanshen

A farmer denouncing a landlord during fanshen

1950 Agrarian Reform Law sent thousands of cadres into the countryside to organise a nation-wide campaign to redistribute land and denounce landlords – it was to be a ‘fanshen’ (a turning over) of traditional power structures in the villages. Peasants Associations were formed, tasked with identifying landlords and the bourgeois who had owned substantial amounts of land in the village. ‘Speak Bitterness’ meetings were held, where public denunciations of exploitative landlords took place, and a People’s Tribunal decided on the fate of the accused. This was a fundamentally peasant-based movement, and the ‘Speak Bitterness’ meetings often escalated to the physical abuse or even death of the accused, as peasants lost control of their anger. Estimates of the number of people killed in this period range from 800,000 (the figure mentioned by Mao) and 5 million. Those who were not killed were often deported to prison camps that preached ‘Reform through Labour’ – soon the prison camp system contained close to 15 million people. At the end of fanshen, more than 100 million acres of land had been redistributed, and the crop area held by poor peasants doubled. Fanshen had also actively involved peasants in the CCP’s socialist struggle, ‘wedding’ them to the revolution.




“in some villages landlords and rich peasants were able to retain at least some status or influence” Frank Dikotter

“the challenge was that none of these artificial class distinctions actually corresponded to the social landscape of the village where most farmers lived in roughly the same conditions” Frank Dikotter

“ordinary people had qualms about persecuting and stealing from their erstwhile neighbours” Frank Dikotter

Villagers learned to “perform as a way to survive” Frank Dikkoter

“objectives of land reform included information and control.. By implicating the local people in these ‘judicial’ killing, control through fear was quickly established “ William Morton