Dragon??™s Village Paper
In The Dragon??™s Village, Yuan-Tsung Chen recounts her experiences as a young member of the Communist Party in the recently established People??™s Republic of China. She is sent from her comfortable upper-middle class lifestyle in Shanghai to China??™s Gansu province, in the largely rural northwestern part of the country, to assist in the instituting of ???land reform??? in the town of Longxiang. There she experiences the realities of the effect Revolutionary policies have on the average rural Chinese peasant, positive and negative.
The material conditions encountered by Ling-ling and her fellow cadres in the countryside present something of a culture shock to most of them, to say the least. The majority of the inhabitants are peasants, of varying degrees of poverty. Most are what are termed ???poor??? peasants who own no land and struggle to obtain enough food and other basic necessities, some are ???middle??? peasants who are landless but are able to make ends meet, finally the ???rich??? peasants, the working class who own a small amount of land and can make a small profit from their labor, sometimes even hiring an additional workman or two to assist them in their farming. Then there are the wealthy landowners, who keep the majority of the peasant population in a kind of serf like economic servitude. The area is very technologically backward; no one in the village owns any motorized equipment, either for farming or transportation. There are also no telephones; any contact with other areas must be made by foot travel or ox-wagon. There is no electricity or running water in Longxiang, either. Being located in a dry, arid part of the country, water must be preserved as much as possible. It was said that in the village one was only assured of having a bath on three occasions in one??™s life: the day one is born, the day one is married, and the day one is buried.
In addition to the redistribution of land, another stated goal of the young Communists is the establishment and promotion of the new gender equality laws put in place by the new regime. This goal is met with considerable difficulties, as both the men and women of Longxiang are entrenched in the Confucian societal beliefs in which wives are to be obedient to their husbands (even in instances in which the husband is physically abusive), and arranged marriages are still the norm. To the peasants of the countryside, ???free choice in love is the same as adultery.??? (p. 138) In this rural area of the country, daughters are considered to be not nearly as valuable or desired as sons, and in some cases infanticide is still practiced. After over two thousand years, the people of Gansu province are naturally resistant to change aspects of traditional Chinese peasant life, and are quite skeptical of the fresh-faced urbanites from the East who arrive promoting ???radical??? ideas of rising up against their traditional oppressors, the feudal landlords, and a society in which women able to own land, divorce their husbands, and marry who they choose.
Upon arrival the Party members established the Poor Peasants??™ Association, a kind of town hall – assembly meeting system. Peasants are asked directly about the state of affairs in the village, and are encouraged to air their grievances with the ???old ways??? of doing things under the Nationalist system. The Communist Party planned to improve life for the peasants in the countryside by holding elections for a new government in Longxiang. The previous township government, officials of the Guomindang, had fled as a result of the defeat in the Chinese Civil War, leaving a void in local leadership. The Communist cadres sought to rectify this by organizing a local election, but were confronted with several obstacles. In initial cases, the middle peasants won overwhelming majorities in some areas despite being outnumbered heavily by the poorest class of peasants. In addition, during the actual voting process, quite a few of the peasants had trouble grasping the concept of a plurality vote, in which they have multiple votes (seven, to be exact) and distribute them among their choices out of twelve candidates. Increased food production is also a priority for the Communist volunteers. The redistribution of arable farm land for all who live in the community, both male and female, is a solution designed to prevent a small percentage from hoarding the majority of the crop yield while many starve. Mechanized farm equipment is also promised to the peasants of Longxiang, some of whom have not even heard of tractors.
A significant obstacle faced by the Communist reformers is the threat of violence posed by those who stand to lose the most in the restructuring of the economic and political systems in the rural areas, namely the feudal landlords. The predominant landowner in Longxiang, a man named Chi, hired former workers of his to commit acts of sabotage and aggression against the Communist work teams and those peasants who supported the Revolution. Other landlords were accused of attempting to hide the true extent of their land holdings; by such subterfuge tactics as offering the peasants they employed small grants, such as an acre or two, at an unfair price, and then taking it back when the Communists leave the area. Ling-ling and her comrades conduct search operations of the landlords??™ homes to expose evidence of these tactics and to obtain records of their actual wealth and land holdings. The searches, unfortunately conducted with a mob of peasants in addition to the Communist cadres, soon degenerate into looting and sometimes acts of aggression against the landowners and their families.