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A History of China by Wolfram Eberhard

When the Chinese Communists discuss territorial claims


Mongolia had a brief dream of independence under Japanese protection during the war. But the majority of the population were Chinese, and already before the Pacific War, the country had been divided into three Chinese provinces, of which the Chinese Communists gained control without delay.

In general, when the Chinese Communists discuss territorial claims, they appear to seek the restoration of borders that China claimed in the eighteenth century. Thus, they make occasional remarks about the Hi area and parts of Eastern Siberia, which the Manchu either lost to the Russians or claimed as their territory. North Vietnam is probably aware that Imperial China exercised political rights over Tongking and Annam (the present-day North and part of South Vietnam). And, treaty or no, the Sino-Burmese question may be reopened one day, for Burma was semi-dependent on China under the Manchu.

The build-up of heavy industry enabled China to conduct an aggressive policy towards the countries surrounding her, but industrialization had to be paid for, and, as in other countries, it was basically agriculture that had to create the necessary capital. Therefore, in June 1950 a land-reform law was promulgated. By October 1952 it had been implemented at an estimated cost of two million human lives: the landlords. The next step, socialization of the land, began in 1953.

The co-operative farms were

supposed to achieve higher production than small individual farms. It may be that any farmer, but particularly the Chinese, is emotionally involved in his crop, in contrast to the industrial worker, who often is alienated from the product he makes. Thus the farmer is unwilling to put unlimited energy and time into working on a farm that does not belong to him. But it may also be that the application of principles of industrial operation to agriculture fails because emergencies often occur in farming and are followed by periods of leisure, whereas in industry steady work is possible.

In any case, in 1956 strains began to appear in China's economy. In early 1958 the "Great Leap Forward" was promoted in an attempt to speed production in all sectors. Soon after, the first communes were created, against the advise of Russian specialists. The objective of the communes seems to have been not only the creation of a new organizational form which would allow the government to exercise more pressure upon farmers to increase production, but also the correlation of labor and other needs of industry with agriculture. The communes may have represented an attempt to set up an organization which could function independently, even in the event of a governmental breakdown in wartime. At the same time, the decentralization of industries began and a people's militia was created. The "back-yard furnaces," which produced high-cost iron of low quality, seem to have had a similar purpose: to teach citizens how to produce iron for armaments in case of war and enemy occupation, when only guerrilla resistance would be possible. In the same year, aggressive actions against offshore, Nationalist-held islands increased. China may have believed that war with the United States was imminent. Perhaps as a result of Russian talks with China, a detente followed in 1959, but so too did increased tension between Russia and China, while the results of the Great Leap and its policies proved catastrophic. The years 1961-64 provided a needed respite from the failures of the Great Leap. Farmers regained limited rights to income from private efforts, and improved farm techniques such as better seed and the use of fertilizer began to produce results. China can now feed her population in normal years.

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