Surviving Socialism: Private Industry and the Transition to Socialism in China, 1945–1958

Robert K. Cliver, Humboldt State University
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Abstract

During the 1950s, China’s hybrid economy recovered from years of war and crisis. China’s Communist revolutionaries and “national capitalists” (minzu zibenjia 民族资本家) cooperated in this effort and were often successful, but the relationship was not unproblematic. This article focuses on the survival strategies of factory owners in the silk industry during what the Chinese Community Party terms the “socialist transformation of private industry and commerce.” This process was initiated and mobilized by the central government but implemented by local officials, and it was influenced by capitalists’ diverse responses, which showed adaptability, perseverance, manipulation, and even resistance. One surprising discovery is that many factory owners welcomed effective state involvement in the economy, such as expansion of the system of state-contracted production in private firms, and agitated to accelerate the transition to socialism. From the Five Antis Campaign in 1952 through the “socialist high tide” of 1956, the relationship between private businesses and the state changed dramatically and reshaped China’s economy, often in unpredictable ways. In this light, China’s transition to socialism appears more complex and contested than historians have previously imagined.

Keywords: China, revolution, capitalist, communist, socialist transformation, private business, industry, silk, state-contracted production, Five Antis Campaign