In 1978, communism in China was the absolute rule of the land. So absolute, there was nothing that was not owned by the collective.
“Back then, even one straw belonged to the group,” says Yen Jingchang, who was a farmer in Xiaogang in 1978. “No one owned anything.”
At one meeting with communist party officials, a farmer asked: “What about the teeth in my head? Do I own those?” Answer: No. Your teeth belong to the collective.
The next three sentences in this NPR article was so shocking for me to read, I stopped and read it again. Not that I disagreed, but was shocked they were printed by NPR:
In theory, the government would take what the collective grew, and would also distribute food to each family. There was no incentive to work hard — to go out to the fields early, to put in extra effort, Yen Jingchang says.
“Work hard, don’t work hard — everyone gets the same,” he says. “So people don’t want to work.”
That’s exactly what conservatives and libertarians have been saying about communism for as long as I can remember. Leftists who still cling to the idea that communism is good in theory, but just hasn’t been implemented correctly yet can’t get this fact through their collective brains.
But this story from a small farming community in rural communist China shows the power of personal property and profit. The people of the small town of Xiaogang produced very little food, and what was produced, the collective took and redistributed.
Like Yen said above, everyone got the same. From each according to the their ability, to each according to their need.
But the starving citizens of Xiaogang had a crazy idea. It was an idea so dangerous, it had to be discussed in secret. What if they parceled up the land and people got to keep a part of the crops they produced. What if they could profit from their hard work?
They understood that if they were caught, they would most likely be arrested and possibly executed, but they did it anyway.
The results reverberated all the way to the top of the communist party, and changed the entire economy of China:
Before the contract, the farmers would drag themselves out into the field only when the village whistle blew, marking the start of the work day. After the contract, the families went out before dawn.
“We all secretly competed,” says Yen Jingchang. “Everyone wanted to produce more than the next person.”
It was the same land, the same tools and the same people. Yet just by changing the economic rules — by saying, you get to keep some of what you grow — everything changed.
At the end of the season, they had an enormous harvest: more, Yen Hongchang says, than in the previous five years combined.
That huge harvest gave them away. Local officials figured out that the farmers had divided up the land, and word of what had happened in Xiaogang made its way up the Communist Party chain of command.
Yen was dragged in front of the Party, who swore at him. But he was very fortunate, because times were changing in China, and there were people who knew communism was failing. So rather than make an example out the the farmers, they made role models out of them and personal profit entered the Chinese economy:
Within a few years, farms all over China adopted the principles in that secret document. People could own what they grew. The government launched other economic reforms, and China’s economy started to grow like crazy. Since 1978, something like 500 million people have risen out of poverty in China.
After implementing communism and murdering over 50 million Chinese in an attempt to create the utopian collective Marx and Engels dream up, all China did was drive its people into mud floor huts. It was just a taste of capitalism that changed all that.
Fantastic story and a great example to remember the next time a leftist starts droning on about how “when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”
It isn’t. That fact has been proven over and over again. And the brave farmers of Xiaogang have proven it once again.