Chapter 5 Politics in Command

In: The Price and Promise of Specialness
Author: Jin Li Lim

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This chapter (1958–1959) shows the radical change in Overseas Chinese policy after Mao’s heralding of ‘politics in command’ returned the party-state to the older ‘high-tide’ vision, especially in economic policy, and to an ideologically Maoist basis for policymaking. Previous ideas of convergence between Overseas Chinese and party-state interests were abandoned, and Overseas Chinese ‘specialness’ and/or ‘favourable treatment’ were deemed Rightist, while the pressures created by the Great Leap Forward for even more hard currency led Overseas Chinese policy to turn instead to coercive and exploitative methods. This was unwise at best; but with the turn towards large-scale, accelerated collectivisation and economic gigantism, this new variant of policy was self-destructive, and there was a drastic fall in remittances by 1959. Yet, while party-state and Overseas Chinese policy practitioners in particular flirted with reform and a return to ‘favourable treatment’, the Lushan Conference led to a renewed Anti-Rightist backlash instead, and this quickly resulted in the abandonment of reformist ideas. Even if Overseas Chinese policy was now clearly counterproductive, the party-state was set on Mao’s utopianism—and so the Overseas Chinese suffered.

The Price and Promise of Specialness

The Political Economy of Overseas Chinese Policy in the People’s Republic of China, 1949–1959