The China Quarterly


Morality, Coercion and State Building by Campaign in the Early PRC: Regime Consolidation and After, 1949–1956 1

Julia Strauss 

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The early to mid-1950s are conventionally viewed as a time when China broke sharply with the past and experienced a “golden age” of successful policy implementation and widespread support from the population. This article shows that the period should be seen as neither “golden age” nor precursor for disaster. Rather it should be seen as a period when the Chinese Communist Party's key mechanisms of state reintegration and instruction of the population – the political campaign and “stirring up” via public accusation sessions – were widely disseminated throughout China, with variable results. The campaigns for land reform and the suppression of counter-revolutionaries show that levels of coercion and violence were extremely high in the early 1950s, and the campaign to clean out revolutionaries in 1955 and after suggests some of the limits of mobilizational campaigns.


1 The research for this article was generously supported by grants from the British Academy (International Exchange Scheme with the Shanghai Academy of Social Science), the SOAS Research Committee and the Fulbright Foundation. I owe particular thanks to Elizabeth Perry, R. Bin Wong and Vivienne Shue for their careful readings of earlier drafts. It goes without saying that any errors and omissions remain my own.