When the Chinese Communist Party seized power in 1949 it began a process of transforming China’s economy and society. Despite the Party initially advancing a programme of gradual change under ‘New Democracy’, the early 1950s can best be characterised as a period of accelerated transition. This paper uses the case study of the elimination of British business in Shanghai to show how radicalisation in the political sphere catalysed economic change. Drawing on recently disclosed documents from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Archives and materials from the Shanghai Municipal Archives, the paper demonstrates how policy-making and implementation evolved in practice. The elimination of foreign commercial enterprises was deemed a priority, but because they were closely tied into the Chinese economy the processes involved in their removal presented issues that were too difficult to resolve along simplistic ideological lines. While it may seem contradictory to argue that this period was characterised both by accelerated change and by enduring legacies of the old order, this paper demonstrates that behind a façade of cohesive action lay cadres struggling to manage a complex situation. The ccp’s own weaknesses determined their courses of action and the methods they deployed informed the way revolutionary transformation evolved.
Janet Y. ChenGuilty of Indigence: The Urban Poor in China 1900–1953 (Princeton: Princeton University Press2012); Jacob Eyferth Eating Rice from Bamboo Roots: The Social History of a Community of Handicraft Papermakers in Rural Sichuan 1920–2000 (Cambridge ma: Harvard University Asia Center 2009); Klaus Mühlhahn Criminal Justice in China: A History (Cambridge ma: Harvard University Press 2009).
See as examples: James Zheng GaoThe Communist Takeover of Hangzhou: The Transformation of City and Cadre 1949–1954 (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press2004); Ruan Qinghua Shanghai Youmin Gaizao Yanjiu 1949–1958 (Research on the Transformation of Vagrants in Shanghai 1949–1958) (Shanghai: Shanghai Cishu Chubanshe 2008); Michael Schoenhals Spying for the People: Mao’s Secret Agents 1949–1967 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2012); Aminda M. Smith Thought Reform and China’s Dangerous Classes: Reeducation Resistance and the People (Lanham md: Rowman & Littlefield 2013); Yang Kuisong ‘Reconsidering the campaign to suppress counterrevolutionaries’ The China Quarterly Vol. 193 (2008) pp. 102–121; Yang Kuisong Ren bu zhu de ‘guanhuai’: 1949 nian qianhou de shusheng yu zhengzhi (Unbearable ‘Solicitude’: Intellectuals and Politics before and after 1949) (Guilin: Guangxi Shifan Daxue Chubanshe 2013); Zhao Xiaoling Lu Zuofu de Xuanze (Lu Zuofu’s Choice) (Guangzhou: Guangdong Renmin Chubanshe 2010).
See as examples: Bennis Wai Yip So‘The policy-making and political economy of the abolition of private ownership in the early 1950s: findings from new material’The China QuarterlyVol. 171 (2002) pp. 682–703; Yang Kuisong ‘The evolution of the Chinese Communist Party’s policy on the bourgeoisie (1949–1952)’ Journal of Modern Chinese History Vol. 1 No. 1 (2007) pp. 13–30.
Aron ShaiThe Fate of British and French Firms in China 1949–1954: Imperialism Imprisoned (Basingstoke: Macmillan in association with St Antony’s College1996); Shao Wenguang China Britain and Businessmen: Political and Commercial Relations 1949–1957 (Basingstoke: Macmillan in association with St Antony’s College Oxford 1991); James Tuck-Hong Tang Britain’s Encounter with Revolutionary China 1949–1954 (Basingstoke: Macmillan 1992); Zhang Kan ‘Jianguo chuqi zai Hua waizi qiye gaizao chu tan (1949–1962); yi Shanghai wei li’ (Preliminary exploration of the transformation of foreign-capital enterprises in China in the early period after the founding of the country with Shanghai as example 1949–1962) Zhongguo jingji shi yanjiu No. 1 (2004).
So‘The policy-making and political economy’ p. 702; Bo Yibo Ruogan Zhongda Juece yu Shijian de Huigu (Recollections of Certain Important Decisions and Events) Vol. 1 (Beijing: Renmin Chubanshe 1997) pp. 219–220. Bo Yibo was Minister of Finance from October 1949 to September 1953 and a member of the State Planning Commission from November 1952.
Toby Ho‘The suppression of private entrepreneurs in China in the 1950s’Risk ManagementVol. 2 No. 2 (2000) pp. 29–38; George N. Ecklund ‘Protracted expropriation of private business in Communist China’ Pacific Affairs Vol. 36 (1963) pp. 238–249.
Julia Strauss‘Paternalist terror: the campaign to suppress counterrevolutionaries and regime consolidation in the People’s Republic of China, 1950–1953’Comparative Studies in Society and HistoryVol. 44 No. 1 (2002) p. 81.