China Rural Reconstruction Dataset – Land Reform (CRRD-LR)

We constructed the China Rural Reconstruction Dataset – Land Reform (CRRD-LR)  to study one of the largest redistributions of wealth and power in history – the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) nationwide Land Reform Movement from 1946 to 1953. During the middle of the twentieth century, local governments in many parts of rural China kept systematic records of land reform events and experiences. These records include detailed individual- and household-level registers of property expropriation and reallocation and the political struggles involved in this redistribution of wealth. Currently the CRRD-LR contains county-wide data on the land reform experiences of over 80,000 households (400,000 individuals) in Shuangcheng from 1946 to 1948. We hope to expand the dataset by acquiring material from other parts of China.

Co-Investigators/Collaborators

Background

Land reform – the fair redistribution of rural property among both rich and poor – is the founding myth of modern China and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Such agrarian reform was a central program of many revolutionary and modernizing efforts in China since as early as 1905 and continued to play an important role in the PRC’s rural collectivization up to the 1980s. The CCP’s Land Reform Movement from 1946-1953, coinciding with the founding of the PRC in 1949, represents the pinnacle of China’s twentieth century agrarian reform program, as highlighted in numerous accounts such as William Hinton’s Fanshen: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village (1966). Through the process of this land reform the CCP began consolidating the largest society on the planet into a modern state system.

The first stage of this land reform was completed around 1948 in north and northeast China, comprising one third of the PRC. This land reform process involved the public humiliation of abuses of power, direct confiscation of local power abusers and large landowners, and the redistribution of all rural property based on a new hierarchy of political entitlements. Local governments, work teams, and village peasant associations recorded all of these events, sometimes in great detail, and these records provide an invaluable source for understanding the social, economic, and political features of tens and hundreds of thousands of rural communities, many of which have virtually no extant community-level historical records from before this time.

CRRD-LR Data Series

The CRRD-LR currently contains data exclusively from Shuangcheng County, Heilongjiang Province. The source data consist of five sets of individual- and household-level registers compiled in 1947 and 1948:

Title Date Coverage Unique Individuals
Registers of persons whose land was expropriated May-Aug. 1947 591 villages 5,900
Registers of escaped landlords May-Aug. 1947 566 villages 734
Registers of persons struggled against May-Aug. 1947 401 villages 579
Registers of executed criminals May 1947-Feb. 1948 472 villages 290
Land reform classification registers Apr.-Aug. 1948 559 villages and 35 urban precincts 82,514 households (423,759 persons)

These registers were originally recorded by village peasant associations and government work teams, then compiled by district governments and submitted to the county government, where they are now preserved in county archives. Although we have collected such data from only one county, we have located comparable data in other counties in north China that completed the first stage of land reform around 1948.

Project History

The CRRD-LR Project grew out of Matthew Noellert’s dissertation research in Shuangcheng County. As a PhD student at HKUST, Noellert first visited Shuangcheng in 2010 with plans to follow up on Shuang Chen’s longitudinal study of the development of the Qing settlement of Shuangcheng up to 1912 (based on the CMGPD-SC). In 2011, Noellert discovered and began collecting the data of the CRRD-LR. The Lee-Campbell Research Group’s full-time coders entered the data and manually linked individuals across registers.

Project Funding

Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Scheme. Hong Kong Research Grants Council. 2010-2014.

James Z. Lee PI (Co-I Matthew Noellert, Yingze Hu, Cameron Campbell). Fanshen Revisited: New Perspectives on Land Reform and Rural Collectivization in North China, 1945-1965. Hong Kong Research Grants Council Project Number 16602315; 2015-2018.

Research Output

Publications

Noellert, Matthew. 2020 (forthcoming). Power over Property: The Political Economy of Communist Land Reform in China. University of Michigan Press.

Academic Presentations

“Communist Land Reform and the Redistribution of Rural Wealth: Evidence from Northeast China, 1946-1948.” XVIIth World Economic History Congress, Kyoto, Japan, August 3-7, 2015.

“New Perspectives on Communist Land Reform: Evidence from Shuangcheng County, Heilongjiang, 1946-1948.” Annual meeting of the Association for Asian Studies, Philadelphia, PA, March 27-30, 2014.

“Land Reform and Local Government in China’s Northeast: The Case of Shuangcheng County, Heilongjiang, 1947–1949.” The International Conference on Land Reform and Rural Chinese Society, Shanxi University, Research Center for Chinese Social History, Jincheng, Shanxi, August 9–12, 2013.

Data Access

The CRRD-LR is not public.