Revolution and Justice at the Grassroots Level in 1950s China

Title: 1391 | Revolution and Justice at the Grassroots Level in 1950s China
Area: China and Inner Asia
Stream: History
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Chenxi Luo, Washington University, St. Louis, United States (presenter)
Wankun Li, University of Leeds, United Kingdom (presenter)


This panel documents and explores the violent application of revolutionary justice in the first decade of the People's Republic of China. Using archives from three specific counties in Sichuan, Jiangxi, and Shandong, the papers develop themes pertaining to the legal history and the history of mass movements in the 1950s. The labelling of counterrevolutionaries, capital punishment, and purges of the judiciary itself will be explored, as will questions of central-local interaction in a search for understanding the linkages between policy impulses from the centre and their irregular and often deadly application in the countryside and in the far-flung counties. With a discussant known for his deep reach into local archives preceding and during the Great Leap Forward, the panel seeks to build upon prior research by such scholars as Julia Strauss and Yang Kuisong on the interplay between violence and state-building in the the CCP consolidation of power.

Panel Abstracts:
Constructing Counter-revolutionary Criminals in P County, Jiangxi Province
This paper addresses the importance of local institutional structures in defining counterrevolutionary crimes and criminals in the earliest years of the PRC. In 1951, the CCP Central Committee released regulations for the suppression of counterrevolutionaries. While these appeared to specify the criteria of defining a new category of crime named “counterrevolutionary activities,” in practice at the local level, political crime was ill-defined and categories remained fluid. This paper, based on archival cases produced from P County in Jiangxi Province, reveals that the operation of a binary legal procedure informed whether a person would be convicted by a “counter-revolutionary” or an ordinary crime. Two prosecutorial institutions are at the core of the study. One is the Judicial Section inherited from the previous (KMT) regime, while the other is the Public Security Bureau newly established by the Communist party. The intuition of grassroots security guards played an important role in determining if arrestees were counter-revolutionary (and thus sent to Public Security Bureau) or ordinary criminals (and thus sent to Judicial Section). The paper also adds to debate over violence levels and the role of how directives from Mao Zedong and other central leaders were interpreted at the local level, namely through investigating the application and timing of death sentences. The local history of P County therefore offers an institutional explanation of the fate of individuals during the violent campaign.

Sex, Violence and Justice: Legal Reform during the Three-Anti Movements in J County, Sichuan Province, 1951-1953
While the Three-Anti movement has been investigated from a top-down perspective, less attention has been devoted to local implications or how the excesses of the campaign were addressed by the Party over a longer duration. This paper will show how the Three-Anti movement meshed with propaganda of the New Marriage Law, resulting in a focus on local cadres’ illegal marriages, adulterous behaviour, violence against women in early 1952. The documents in this paper demonstrate that in one county in Sichuan, from January to August 1952, more than 16 women were tortured to death and 64 cases were recorded of rape and adultery. Facing a spiral of violence, the party launched another round of rectification from June 1952 to early 1953, known as the “New Three-Anti.” The very local judges who had prosecuted the first round of the Three-Anti movement became the targets of the “New Three-Anti”. The campaign further propagated the New Marriage Law and more formally added “Public Trial by the People (renmin shenpan)” into the practice of justice in the PRC. Based on J County People's Court archives, this research examines anti-corruption movements at the grassroots, arguing that the CCP’s practice of justice was connected closely to emerging norms over gender, marriage, and violence.

This panel is on Thursday - Session 01 - Room 7

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