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

This chapter covers some key state power organs in early People's Republic of China (1949-1954):
1. CPPCC: High legislative body, drafted early socialist laws.
2. Government Administration Council (GAC): Executed laws and policies.
3. CCP: Influential in policy-making and societal control.
4. PLA: Defended China's sovereignty, crucial for stability. During this period, CCP and government closely collaborated to consolidate power and implement reforms.
Fig. 1.1People's Daily Editorials
A Red Number indicates the subject was a major theme in the editorial. A Black Number indicates a minor theme in the editorial. Source: Oksenberg (1982).
These main editorials on Administration contain titles as February 4, 1949, Strive for the Establishment of New Democratic Peking, or May 16, 1950 New Constructions in Democratic Regimes in the Big Cities, or February 3, 1953 Resolutely Rectify Coercive Work Style in Postal and Telecommunications Agencies. Judicial editorials are throughout the period the main item, followed by bureaucracy. Editorials on CPPCC and government are scarce.

This article discusses the electoral process and political landscape in China during the early 1950s, focusing on the formation of the NPC and the role of local RCAC. The Common Program mandates general elections for the NPC, preceded by local elections and a national census. RCACs temporarily assume the functions of local people’s congresses until NPC elections are held. Elections are controlled by the CCP, with predetermined candidates and limited freedom for participants and voters. The responsibilities of township governments are outlined, emphasizing adherence to higher authorities' decisions and conveying the people's will. Mao Zedong emphasizes the importance of RCACs in fostering unity and democratic decision-making. However, in practice, the CCP tightly controls RCACs and suppresses dissent, organizing mass rallies against perceived counterrevolutionaries.
Elections for NPC members are indirect, with provincial congresses selecting representatives. The CCP screens candidates, ensuring their approval. Despite claims of democratic consultation, results show overwhelming support for CCP-endorsed candidates. Elections serve to legitimize CCP authority rather than offer genuine choice. The NPC is theoretically the supreme organ of state power, but in reality, power resides with the CCP. Party committees, not government agencies, hold ultimate decision-making authority, consolidating CCP control across all societal sectors.

Under pressure of Stalin Mao Zedong decides to hold elections. These elections are thoroughly manipulated, with instances of violence being employed. Periodically, each district also received reports from the work teams regarding threats to the electoral process. Suspected wrongdoers were subjected to punishment through staged trials or by specially convened "election courts" in order to serve as deterrent examples. During the peak of the election campaign in Shanghai, eight individuals were publicly denounced in mass show trials and charged with offenses including "sabotaging the election" and "counter-revolution." Among these eight, five were additionally accused of murder and subsequently sentenced to death, while the remaining three received prison terms ranging from five to ten years. On local level most candidates were model workers or ordinary people. They were nominated because they were loyal to the nation, active in political campaigns. However, they had no experience exercising power, in discussing issues of national importance, or the capability to represent the needs of the masses to the government.

Before the establishment of universal suffrage for the NPC, the plenary session of the CPPCC assumed the functions and powers of the NPC. However, it was not the highest organ of state power itself, and its authority ceased once the Central People's Government Committee was elected. The CPPCC is structured into three levels: the plenary session, the National Committee, and the Standing Committee. After the conclusion of the first CPPCC plenary session, no further sessions were held until the 2nd CPPCC in 1954.
The CPPCC National Committee convened several times between 1950 and 1954, during which important decisions were made, such as passing the draft of the Land Reform law and emphasizing the need to intensify the struggle in Korea and combat bureaucratism. United Front Work Conferences were held periodically to discuss the role of the United Front in supporting CCP rule, eliminating enemies, and promoting economic and cultural development.

After the establishment of the NPC in 1954, the role of the CPPCC changed. It transitioned from being a constituent assembly and national legislator to primarily focusing on social problem-solving, representing people's opinions to the government, facilitating cooperation within the CPPCC, and exchanging views on various matters, including nominations for political positions and international affairs.
Groot (2004) enumerates the common features, ideological characteristics, and problems relevant to understanding the historical roles of the Minzhu Dangpai. "These included small and limited memberships, the centrality of leadership over organization, and elitism. Although politically relatively liberal and sympathetic to the West, the MPGs also shared many characteristics with the communists and nationalists. The MPG leaders were generally elite intellectuals trained overseas or at Western universities in China. They were prominent academics and social activists and examples of high educational attainment in a nation where education was both revered and rare. They were much respected and accorded high social status, features which could be used for political purposes and accorded them some protection.Personal relations or guanxi, based on teacher-student relations, school and regional affiliations, were all very important."
The role of the CPPCC was during its first five years very limited, and it became even more confined after the establishment of the NPC. Only its role as instrument of the United Front policy stays intact. The role of the Common program has ended after the constitution of 1954 is installed

This article limits the period of the military administration. In smaller cities, military control would be enforced for a duration ranging from two weeks to two to three months. In larger cities with populations exceeding 100,000, the decision regarding the extension or removal of military control was made by the Government.
From a legal perspective, the six administrative regions were not granted any special status or independent authority. Their powers were essentially on par with provincial governments, serving as intermediaries between the central government and local authorities. The GAC had the authority to nullify or modify their actions. Overt military control is less, as most of the opponents of the regime are disabled. Under the surface the military keep control in factories, institutions and governance .

In 1949, the CCP established the People’s Republic of China as a ‘people’s democratic dictatorship’ and emphasised the mass line (qunzong lüxian) as complementary to democratic centralism, as an aspect of democracy. Mao delineated the PRC as a fusion of two distinct political powers: the "state form," characterized as a "dictatorship of the revolutionary classes of the people," and the "government form," which embodied the principles of "democratic centralism." The state form represented the underlying social class dynamics within the state, while the government form represented the organizational structure through which a specific social class fortified itself against its adversaries. Democratic centralism, therefore, was the governance model used by revolutionary classes to secure their position within a state operating as a people's dictatorship. This amalgamation of the two forms resulted in Mao's concise description of the PRC as a 'people's democratic dictatorship.'

The significant contrast between the previous and the contemporary judicial systems lies in their societal functions. In the old system, legislation primarily served as a tool for the government to uphold social order. Family councils and guild leaders predominantly handled most civil cases, with minimal state involvement. Under the new system, legislation assumes a distinct role. It now operates in the context of a society where private property has been socialized, fundamentally altering the legal foundation. Legal instruments are employed as dynamic tools to reshape society and drive economic advancement. Party cadres act as the agents of the state, although in practice, the state often acts as a façade for the Party's influence.
During this period the criminal process served as a blunt instrument of terror. Campaigns, as Zhenfan (see Article 7), Sanfan (see Article 18) and Wufan (see chapter 4) are instruments to crush all sources of political opposition. "In short, the army, the police, and the regular and irregular courts implemented the directive of Chairman Mao to serve as instruments for oppressing the hostile classes and for inflicting "legalized" violence and lesser sanctions upon all those who were deemed to be "reactionaries" and "bad elements."
Having no experience in administering justice in an urban setting. Two ideas about solving the problem were in play. One was to establish a Soviet Union style of legal system, highly professional, hierarchical and largely independent. The other was to establish a revolutionary legal system based on party control, participation of the masses and involvement of nonprofessional personnel. In the period between 1949-1954 we can see a switch from SU style to revolutionary style, however this reversal was not complete.
In both systems, forced labor played an important role as a way of punishment. So did public shame and blame. The reduction or suspension of penalties for crimes committed by an offender who freely confessed or gave information about the crime was provided in almost all criminal laws. "The modern state also monopolized the use of violence and prohibited all other nonstate actors, such as clans and families, from using penal violence. Physical capital (that is, violence) was concentrated in the hands of the nation-state and its agencies." The Judicial Reform Campaign marked a significant turning point for the courts. Since 1949, the courts had played prominent roles in various mass campaigns targeting groups like landlords, counterrevolutionaries, and corrupt officials. These campaigns had consistently heightened their internal political tensions and led to the removal of some of their personnel. However, what made the Judicial Reform Campaign unique was that, for the first time, the campaign itself targeted the courts.
While it outwardly began as an effort to eradicate corruption and misconduct, its primary objective was to eradicate the existing personnel, ideologies, and practices within the courts. The aim was to infuse the judicial system with a completely new and thoroughly revolutionary identity. This campaign also involved related legal institutions such as the police and procuracy, along with law schools.

Since 1949, the CCP experienced rapid growth in its membership, with over 2.5 million new members recruited, bringing the total to 4.5 million by 1950. However, this expansion led to various challenges. These challenges included shortages of experienced cadres, an abundance of new cadres, and deficiencies in training, resulting in errors despite significant achievements. To address these issues, the CCP decided to conduct criticism and self-criticism sessions and prioritize cadre training.
In May 1950, Mao Zedong emphasized the need for a prudent approach to expanding Party membership, aiming to prevent political speculators from joining and advocating for the admission of politically conscious workers. The CCP initiated a nationwide rectification campaign, focusing on combating "commandism" and intra-elite tensions among old, new, and retained cadres.
In June 1951, Bo Yibo highlighted concerns about party cadres becoming complacent after successful land reform, neglecting political activities, and focusing solely on personal welfare. Gao Gang expressed fears of the Party becoming dominated by wealthy peasants, urging a focus on socialist transition efforts in rural areas.
The rapid succession of political campaigns between 1950-1954 led to miscommunication and a mismatch between political ambition and implementation. Despite efforts to address corruption, waste, and bureaucratic behaviour through campaigns like "Sanfan," these initiatives resulted in economic consequences and blurred distinctions between criminal activities and bureaucratic shortcomings.
The Sanfan campaign led to significant economic disruptions and personal consequences, prompting the CCP to lower punishments and implement leniency for certain cases. However, the campaign's excessive zeal and negative impacts led to its end in March 1952, with Liu Shaoqi tasked with addressing its aftermath.
The Wuduo campaign launched in March 1953 aimed to streamline bureaucratic practices, enhance cadre training, and improve grassroots leadership. Mao Zedong emphasized the importance of openness to criticism and encouraged public participation in party affairs to address bureaucratic tendencies effectively.

These campaigns caused economic disruption and caused fear and terror for many, like many other campaigns had little lasting effect on the attitude of cadres. An Ziwen points out: "After a mass campaign is over, many flaws and errors assailed during the campaign may re-emerge. They may even re-emerge to a greater degree. Some people self-congratulate themselves for having discovered some patterns from repeated campaigns. They would get prepared before a new campaign began and pretend to be active and honest. Sometimes they could even shed a few drops of tears while making self-criticisms or confessions. Yet no sooner is the campaign over than they would return to their old selves.102"
An Ziwen continues "… particularly pinpointed the problem of post-campaign vengeance by officials who had received criticism or denunciation from subordinates, an action known as “zheng ren”(to fix someone) or “chuan xiaoxie” (literally, to give someone tight shoes to wear: i.e. make things hard for someone). This practice became familiar to many Chinese in the many political campaigns that were to follow.103".

Despite the development of various organs at national and local level where one can complain about the administration and party, the implementation and results remain weak. By forsaking the crucial process of consultation and integration, mass mobilization eroded the democratic centralism that the mass line embodied. Consequently, the majority of the population, particularly the peasants, saw their interests disregarded as distant policies from Beijing took precedence. Where active participation in the revolution had thrived when party cadres and local activists addressed the tangible aspects of people's lives, these revolutionary advancements were displaced in the 1950s by directives from the central government that increasingly had little relevance to the peasant majority. What's worse, these directives arguably harmed their living conditions. Mass mobilization redirected the revolution towards the establishment of a party-state, characterized by party dominance, the expansion of bureaucracy, and the emergence of patron-client relationships.

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Groot (2004). Pages 8-9 [↩] [Cite]
Solinger (1977). Page 33 [↩] [Cite]
Howland (2017). Pages 448-449 [↩] [Cite]
Hsiao (1965). Page 1060 [↩] [Cite]
Cohen (1968). Page 10 [↩] [Cite]
Mühlhahn (2009). Page 177 [↩] [Cite]
Mühlhahn (2009). Page 289 [↩] [Cite]
Tiffert (2015). Page 187 [↩] [Cite]
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Howland (2017). Page 462 [↩] [Cite]

Chapter 2 of Common Program