New Writing on the PRC’s Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries

As Xi Jinping confirms his position as China’s disciplinarian helmsman, we return to a regular theme of this blog: the early years of the People’s Republic of China. Mao’s role in the “Three-Anti, Five-Anti” movement has been covered here before, as has Mao and the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries, otherwise known as the “Zhenfan” campaign.

In recent years some new scholarship has emerged about the early 1950s which may be of interest for China-oriented readers, the growing field of comparative dictatorship studies, or students just getting into the topic of Mao Zedong and CCP governance as it took over and remoulded state institutions. Here is a selection of resources, most of which are new, some of which are simply new to me:

‘Military report – Bandit Suppression,’ 5 September 1950, US Central Intelligence Agency, CREST Archive,

This report is not ‘humint’ but instead a collection of summaries from the mainland Chinese press on the theme of violent resistance to CCP governance, with a focus on southern China.

Zi Yang, ‘Securing the keystone: the suppression of anti-communist insurgents in Southern China, 1949-1952’, Small Wars & Insurgencies Vol. 32, No. 7 (2021), 1029-1055. [link]

Abstract: Following their victory in the Chinese Civil War, the Chinese Communists initiated a nationwide counterinsurgency. In Guangxi, a mountainous province at the China-Vietnam border, anti-communist rebels waged an insurgency from 1949 to 1952, hoping that foreign support and Cold War rivalries could eventually restore the ancien régime. This research investigates the counterinsurgency in Guangxi, one of the more mutinous provinces in post-Civil War China. By situating the Guangxi counterinsurgency in the global context, this article aims to contribute to the discussion of Chinese counterinsurgency strategy, experience and how the People’s Republic’s triumphed over the armed resistance.

Wankun Li and Adam Cathcart, “Shoulder Poles and Bombs: Grain Market Controls in Greater Chongqing (1949-1953),” Chinese Historical Review, Vol. 28, No. 1 (May), 1-26. [link]

Excerpt [from p.3]: Grain collection and public security problems were often linked. As late as 1954, cases of “Destructive Activities by Landlords, Rich Peasants and Counterrevolutionaries (di fu fan pohuai yundong 地富反破坏运动)” were still arising around rural areas in Chongqing. As described in Jiangjin County archives from that year, 107 landlords and rich peasants were named and sentenced by authorities as counterrevolutionaries, resulting in fourteen death sentences. The report title also indicates that the real body count was higher – nineteen suspects committed suicide before they were put on trial. Beyond greater Chongqing in 1953–1956, other incidents arose and were labeled under the rubric of “Anti-Unified Purchase and Sale of Grain Cases.” In a classified report, the leader of the Sichuan Government admitted that the implementation of the grain purchasing policy had coincided with a spike in suicides, with 262 suicide cases across the province in the month following the policy’s announcement.

Zhang Ning, “The political origins of death penalty exceptionalism: Mao Zedong and the practice of capital punishment in contemporary China”, Punishment & Society, 10, 2 (2008), 117-136.

Abstract: This article focuses on the role played by Mao Zedong in the making of the Chinese communist legal system in general and in the Chinese practice of the death penalty under Mao in particular. It attempts to study this link through an analysis of an event which represented a landmark, namely the campaign of the regression against counterrevolutionaries launched in 1950—2, and through an examination of three specific cases, which enable us to observe the concrete characteristics of these practices, whose effects continue to be felt in today’s China.

“He who harms the people will not easily escape justice!” (c. 1950; reproduction granted by IISH/Stefan R. Landsberger/ Private Collection; illustration from, via Michael Ranta in Semiotica, January 2020.

Yang Kuisong, ‘How a “Bad Element” was Made: The Discovery, Accusation, and Punishment of Zang Qiren,’ in Maoism at the Grassrootsː Everyday Life in China’s Era of High Socialism, ed. Jeremy Brown and Matthew Johnson (Harvard University Press, 2015), pp. 19-50.

Frederick Wakeman, Jr., “‘Liberation’: The Shanghai Police, 1942-1952,” in Yves Chevrier, Alain Roux and Xiaohong Xiao-Planes (eds), Citadins et citoyens dans la Chine due XXe siecle, Essais d’histoire sociale. En hommage à Marie-Claire Bergère (Paris: Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, 2010), pp. 497-540. []

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