Handbooks of Research on Contemporary China series
Edited by Yingjie Guo
Chapter 1: Reconfiguring China’s class order after the 1949 Revolution
After the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took national power in 1949, it radically reorganized Chinese society, creating a state socialist order with a system of class differentiation quite different from that of the past. Private ownership of property in the means of production, which had been the most important determinant of class position, was completely eliminated. Some forms of social inequality were greatly diminished, while others were augmented. This chapter will provide an overview of the new class order established by the CCP during its first 17 years in power, between 1949 and the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in 1966. It should be noted, however, that this class order was hardly stable; it could not be because class hierarchies were anathema in Communist doctrine. Mao Zedong, in particular, was determined to continue leveling class differences, and these efforts took increasingly radical forms, culminating in the Cultural Revolution. The chapter is composed of five main sections. In the first, I describe the basic social structure established by the CCP, which consisted of urban work units and rural production brigades. Inequality among these collectivities was a fundamental source of social differentiation, which was reinforced by strong restrictions on mobility. In the second section, I examine the types of resources that were critical in determining an individual’s position within these collectivities, as well as access to the higher rungs of the social order.