China’s Silent Land Reform: 1958-1962

Presented by ANU College of Asia & the Pacific

In this seminar I examine the heated debates within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership between 1958 and 1962 over the issue of collective land. In their efforts to establish and sustain a planned economy across rural China, CCP leaders struggled to decide who should be allocated what land, and how much agricultural output they should be expected to provide to the state—their production quota. Drawing upon diverse primary sources, including CCP leaders’ reports and letters, policy documents, production team accounting data, and farmers’ diaries, I first describe the policies and processes that shaped the implementation of a planned economy across rural China in the 1950s, highlighting the difficulties facing any effort to implement a planned economy regarding land allocation. I then focus on the debates among CCP leaders from 1958 to 1962 over land allocation, management authority, and production quotas. The final part identifies how the resolution of this debate in 1962 helped sustain the planned economy structure across rural China while laying the foundation for China’s present-day collective owned land regime (COLR). I argue that while China’s divergence from the Soviet-style rural economy is often associated with the reforms of the late 1970s, my research instead highlights the significance of the 1962 reforms for China’s current system.

About the speaker

Originally from China, Wuna Reilly studied and worked in the United States for several years before returning to China to re-establish the China office of the American Friends Service Committee. She worked for AFSC, based in Dalian, from 2001 until 2010, where she was responsible for a wide range of development and international exchange programs, primarily engaging with North Korea. She then completed a MSc in Social Policy and Development at the London School of Economics (LSE) before starting her doctoral studies at the University of Sydney. Having received her doctoral degree in December 2018, she has been invited to serve as a Visiting Scholar at Peking University. Her primary research explores the origins, operations, and implications of China’s collective owned land regime (COLR).

Before the seminar

All attendees are invited to join us in the CIW Tea House from 3.30pm for an informal discussion with the guest speaker before the seminar.

The ANU China Seminar Series is supported by the Australian Centre on China in the World at The Australian National University’s College of Asia & the Pacific.