The Common Program of the People's Republic of China 1949-1954

Article 23 of the Common Program

In his address to party congress of April 1945, Mao Zedong argues the importance of the militia "…this army is powerful because it has the people’s self-defence corps and the militia — the vast armed organizations of the masses — fighting in co-ordination with it. In the Liberated Areas of China all men and women, from youth to middle age, are organized in the people’s anti-Japanese self-defence corps on a voluntary and democratic basis and without giving up their work in production. The cream of the self-defence corps, except for those who join the army or the guerrilla units, is brought into the militia. Without the cooperation of these armed forces of the masses it would be impossible to defeat the enemy." A day later on April 26, Zhu De again, stresses the importance of the militia “The enormous force of militia corps in the liberated areas is something we never had before. We have now learned the technique of organizing militia corps. The significance and importance of this accomplishment are beyond imagination. Militia corps, once formed, can cooperate with the regular armed forces in battle. They may separately shoulder battle tasks. They also play an important role protecting the production campaigns of the populace. . . .In various localities arrangements have been made to link together militia corps for joint protection and battle assignments. Herein may be seen the beginning of militia corps gradually evolving into and becoming regular armed forces of the localities. At the same time the militia corps and self-protection units also take part in general production activities. This enables war prosecution and production activities to be linked together and become coordinated. . . .”
Once the CCP gained control, local militias, especially "self-defense corps" and "landlord troops," were labeled as "anti-Communist" or "anti-people" entities. The Communists mandated these groups to disband all operations by January 15, 1949. Members were obligated to register and surrender all significant documents, broadcasting gear, and weaponry. Failure to register would result in the leaders of these organizations being deemed criminals.
The ACFTU, the CCP, and the PLA are entangled in a power struggle over control of the militia. Complex political dynamics have emerged among them regarding the role and authority over the militias, with workers primarily being mobilized as recruits rather than serving as their own organizers. Nevertheless, some individuals persisted in acting independently, such as by resisting orders to disarm. The broader working class, particularly in 1949 and the early 1950s, often resisted these state-run militias, which frequently failed in their intended task of suppressing working-class radicalism. During the land reform campaign, the militia held a monopoly on violence, preventing work teams and ordinary peasants from taking justice into their own hands. However, the "speak bitterness" rituals created an emotionally charged environment that was challenging to control. Millions of lives were lost in the Land Reform Campaign, with some falling victim to militia firing squads and others to agitated villagers. Neither work teams nor ordinary peasants were sanctioned to administer justice independently.


On May 16, 1950, the CC and the RMC issued the "Directive on Strengthening the Construction of Militias". The directive proposes the implementation of a universal militia system throughout the country. The principle of voluntary participation in the militia practiced in the past years is changed into general participation. It stipulates that all young men of the right age shall have the right and obligation to participate in the militia as long as they are in good health and regardless of ethnicity, race, social origin, and education level. In November 1950, the CCP decided to let the militia grow to 5% of the population (about 23 million people). Everybody between the age of 18 and 31 years old can apply for the militia. The task of this militia is maintaining local order and giving support to the Land Reform and picking up "criminals" who stand trial in the people’s tribunals. The main task of the militia is mainly suppressing riots in tax collection and the introduction of agricultural reforms. The role of supporting the regular army disappears, although the recruiting of militia troops occurs during the Korean War. As the war in Korea drags on, the average citizens became more alert of domestic enemies. In February 1950, there were 109 militias in Shanghai, "Yet, by the end of 1950, Shanghai citizens had organized 742 Winter Defense Service Teams staffed by 29,691 members. Up to April 1951, the number of Service Team reached 2020, and membership expanded to 174,846." The target of 23 million recruits was not met for two main reasons. Firstly, the prioritization of recruitment into the regular armed forces over the militia during the Korean War resulted in some militia members being enlisted into the regular army. Secondly, the focus on modernizing the PLA took precedence over militia activities, leading to a decline in the attention and resources allocated to militia work. The militia was expanded from 5 million in 1950 to 12,8 million in September 1951. 700.000 militias were recruited for the Chinese People's Volunteers
The PRC possessed weak naval capacity to impose authority over the coastal waters of the mainland. To solve this problem an organized maritime militia is established. Fishermen are recruited, because they are the only experienced mariners. "The CCP targeted the fishing communities, creating fishing collectives and work units, enacting strict organizational control, and conducting political education.8" March 6, 1950, more than 200 Beihai militiamen dispatched 140 large and small ships to cooperate with the Fourth Field Army of the PLA to occupy Weizhou and the maritime militia played an important role in the conquest of Hainan (see Article 2).

On December 11, 1952, enters into force the new regime of militias. It regulates the formation of militia on provincial, Regional, district, city, and village levels. The militia should from now on enforce the bond between the PLA and the masses (especially with the farmers). The PLA supplies weaponry and training. A definite division exists between rural and urban areas, with no militias allowed in the urban districts of major cities. It was explicitly forbidden for factories, mines, shops, and enterprises to form militia groups among their employees. Conversely, in rural areas, militia development, supervised by the military, was emphasized as a national priority.
In practice, the militia undergo minimal training, and their duties occasionally involve patrols or tasks that deviate from the intended purpose of the militia. There have been instances where militia members were asked to perform duties such as standing guard outside local cadre offices or acting as an honor escort, which were unrelated to their intended role. It's crucial that militia activities do not interfere with agricultural production. Regarding national security, the militia's contribution is limited, as they are not adequately equipped to combat rebels; this responsibility falls to the regular army.

On July 30, 1955, the Second Meeting of the 1st National People’s Congress ratified the Military Service Law of the People’s Republic of China, which stipulated the People’s Republic of China shall practice a military service system based mainly on conscription. According to this law, China started to practice conscription in 1956.

24-04-1945 Mao Zedong "On coalition government"
RMRB gives a summary on the history of the militia. RMRB: 10-08-1952 "The powerful assistant and powerful reserve army of the Chinese People's Liberation Army - the militia" [↩]
Dikötter (1997). Page 152 [↩] [Cite]
Blecher (2022). Page 153 [↩] [Cite]
Perry (2019). Page 551 [↩] [Cite]
Wen (2015). Page 104 [↩] [Cite]
Bunk (no date). Page 10 [↩] [Cite]
Brugger (1981). Page 75 [↩] [Cite]
Erickson Andrew S. and Kennedy Conor M. (no date). Page 3 [↩] [Cite]
Perry (2006). Page 181 [↩] [Cite]
Cressy (1957). Page 252
There are also complains about militiamen, see for example RMRB 16-03-1951 "Some militiamen in Hengshui County are not serious about protecting state property. They cover each other and steal sugar from department stores. The local government should deal with it seriously and strictly educate them." [↩] [Cite]


28-11-1952 Interim Regulations of the People's Republic of China on Militia Organizations

Chapter 3 of Common Program