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University of California Press
Anyuan: Mining China's Revolutionary Tradition / Edition 1

Anyuan: Mining China's Revolutionary Tradition / Edition 1

by Elizabeth Perry
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How do we explain the surprising trajectory of the Chinese Communist revolution? Why has it taken such a different route from its Russian prototype? An answer, Elizabeth Perry suggests, lies in the Chinese Communists’ creative development and deployment of cultural resources – during their revolutionary rise to power and afterwards. Skillful “cultural positioning” and “cultural patronage,” on the part of Mao Zedong, his comrades and successors, helped to construct a polity in which a once alien Communist system came to be accepted as familiarly “Chinese.” Perry traces this process through a case study of the Anyuan coal mine, a place where Mao and other early leaders of the Chinese Communist Party mobilized an influential labor movement at the beginning of their revolution, and whose history later became a touchstone of “political correctness” in the People’s Republic of China. Once known as “China’s Little Moscow,” Anyuan came over time to symbolize a distinctively Chinese revolutionary tradition. Yet the meanings of that tradition remain highly contested, as contemporary Chinese debate their revolutionary past in search of a new political future.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520271906
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 10/01/2012
Series: Asia: Local Studies / Global Themes , #24
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 412
Sales rank: 1,331,158
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Elizabeth Perry is Henry Rosovsky Professor of Government at Harvard University and Director of the Harvard-Yenching
Institute. She is the author of many books, most recently: Mao's
Invisible Hand: The Political Foundations of Adaptive Governance in China
and Patrolling the Revolution: Worker Militias, Citizenship and the Modern Chinese State.

Read an Excerpt


Mining China's Revolutionary Tradition

By Elizabeth J. Perry


Copyright © 2012 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-27190-6


Rehearsing Revolution

Revolution does not take place in a cultural vacuum. Although the ultimate aim of revolution is a radical break with tradition and a wholesale reconfiguration of the political and social landscape, its objectives must be conveyed in terms sufficiently intelligible and attractive to engage a mass following. When the blueprint for revolution is borrowed from abroad, the difficulty in communicating the new message is especially daunting. Impressed by the Russian Revolution though the founders of the Chinese Communist Party were, they recognized from the outset that their own revolution would demand a degree of adaptation and alteration of the Soviet model in order to garner widespread allegiance among their fellow countrymen.

Mao Zedong, raised in a rural household in the heartland of agrarian China and unexposed to overseas education, was better attuned to the cultural requirements of popular mobilization than some of his more cosmopolitan colleagues. Convinced from a young age of the exhaustion of the Confucian tradition and the need to develop a new revolutionary consciousness, Mao nonetheless evinced an instinctive appreciation for the critical role that indigenous culture could play in this transformation. When Mao returned to his native province of Hunan shortly after the establishment of the CCP to take charge of the labor secretariat there, his search for a mass constituency led him almost immediately to the Anyuan coal mine in nearby Pingxiang County. As Mao was quick to discern, the Pingxiang area offered a would-be revolutionary from Hunan the advantage of cultural accessibility combined with a local populace well schooled in the practice of protest. It was, however, also a place known for hostility to foreign ideas; introducing unfamiliar ways would not be easy.

Nestled amid the verdant mountainous terrain that spans the Jiangxi-Hunan border, Pingxiang County was in many respects closer to Hunan than to the province of Jiangxi, which governed it administratively (see map 1). The rivers that crisscross the county flowed westward toward Hunan; its urban food supply came primarily from rural Hunan; and the distance to Hunan's capital of Changsha (80 miles) was less than half the distance to its own provincial capital of Nanchang (170 miles). Dialect, religion, opera, and other markers of local culture also showed strong Hunan influence. Just as alluring to Mao as Pingxiang's familiar culture was the area's claim to a celebrated history of antistate rebellion. For centuries, this rugged borderland—dotted with hundreds of makeshift coal mines amid its densely wooded hills—had harbored a variety of sectarian and secret-society outfits whose members proved to be ready recruits for insurgency. Armed feuds among rival lineages competing for the rich coal resources contributed to an unusual degree of militarization and mobilization, blurring the distinction between everyday resistance and outright rebellion. A pattern of violence and lawlessness infused the local institutions of this region. In both imperial and republican periods, private militias and secret-society criminal networks were the main enforcers of order (as well as engines of disorder) in Pingxiang; state control was notoriously lax.

To cite but a few notable examples of this rebellious heritage: In the mid-fourteenth century, Pingxiang County contributed more than five thousand soldiers to the millenarian Red Turban Army, which helped to rout the Mongols and establish the Ming dynasty. Five hundred years later, Triad-affiliated miners from this area constituted a significant source of recruits for the Taiping Rebellion. In 1892, twenty years before the overthrow of the imperial system, more than nine thousand members of the Pingxiang Elder Brothers Society (known locally as the Red Gang)—again drawn largely from Anyuan miners—launched an abortive insurgency against the dynasty. A local history textbook for middle school students boasts, with some justification, "The people of Pingxiang have a glorious revolutionary tradition ... virtually every one of the successive revolutionary movements and political struggles in Chinese history has a connection to Pingxiang ... The history of Pingxiang is a microcosm of China's revolutionary struggle."

Many of the earlier conflicts were at best distant memories by the time that Mao appeared on the scene in 1921. The more recent protests, however, figured centrally in the local lore of Anyuan and its environs. Mao's interest in this area as a target of mobilization was sparked not only by its large and concentrated industrial proletariat, which included railway workers as well as coal miners, but also by Pingxiang's ongoing pageant of rebellion. In September 1920, a year prior to Mao's first visit to the coal mine, large-scale riots had broken out in the nearby villages, with thousands of hungry peasants pilfering surplus grain and staging raucous "eat-ins" at landlords' homes. Mao Zedong wrote glowingly about these events in the journal Communist Party. The next month railway workers at Anyuan went on strike to protest a wage reduction. Instigated by the powerful secret societies that oversaw lucrative gambling and opium rings operating across the Hunan-Jiangxi border, the endemic unrest bespoke a deeply ingrained local pattern of protest that would present both opportunities and obstacles to Mao and his comrades.


Like most counties in imperial China, Pingxiang was predominantly agricultural. For hundreds of years, primitive coal mines and fireworks mills had constituted the only form of local industry. The Self-Strengthening Movement of the late nineteenth century brought major change, however. Although coal mining had been practiced in this region since before the Tang dynasty, a transformation in scale and technology occurred after the establishment of the Pingxiang Mining Company at Anyuan in 1898. Initiated by the foremost bureaucratic capitalist of his day, Sheng Xuanhuai (acting at the behest of the reformist governor-general Zhang Zhidong), the Anyuan mine was developed for the purpose of supplying the recently opened Hanyang ironworks in Hubei with an accessible and economical source of coal. With most of the country's coal mines concentrated in the distant northern and northeastern provinces, the prohibitive cost of transport to Hubei dictated the need for a more conveniently located coal supply. Sheng Xuanhuai engaged the expert assistance of two German engineers who, after scouring several provinces in central China, recommended Anyuan as the headquarters for a new mine. Pingxiang's extensive reserves of exceptionally high quality coking coal (required for smelting iron), together with its relative proximity to Hubei, rendered it both geologically and geographically suitable as an affordable supply source for the Hanyang ironworks.

The first director of the Pingxiang coal mine, personally commissioned by Zhang Zhidong and Sheng Xuanhuai, was a Jiangsu man by the name of Zhang Zanchen. Zhang actively assisted Sheng in securing financing for the new enterprise during a series of fund-raising trips to Hankou and Shanghai. Equally important for the future development of the mine was Zhang's recruitment of a forward-looking deputy director, an intellectual and fellow Jiangsu native named Li Shouquan. While a young teacher in Yangzhou during the late 1880s, Li had become convinced that the future of China required the adoption of advanced Western technology. Anxious for an opportunity to translate his reformist ideals into reality, Li readily accepted Zhang's invitation to join him at Anyuan. As deputy director, Li was charged with overseeing the construction of the mine and railroad and managing (not always smoothly) the delicate relations with the local gentry.

In the past, the mines in this region had been run as small, scattered concerns owned and managed for the most part by the various lineages in Pingxiang County. Sheng Xuanhuai, acting through Deputy Director Li Shouquan, paid over five hundred thousand yuan to buy out the private mines in the area, consolidating them into his new modern venture. It took eight years to purchase all of the 321 private mines that had been operating in the Anyuan area, but by July of 1908 every one of the formerly independent enterprises had fallen under the control of the Pingxiang Mining Company, whose jurisdiction now spanned a sizable territory of more than 250 square kilometers.

The inroads made by the new mining company were facilitated by the fact that the dominant lineage in Pingxiang, the Wens, initially cooperated with Sheng Xuanhuai's state-backed modernization plans. Led by several prominent Confucian degree holders known for their reformist sympathies, the Wen lineage—ignoring the objections of other gentry in Pingxiang—provided crucial information and assistance to Sheng Xuanhuai and his colleagues. However, once it became clear that the drastic transformation in technology and management envisioned for the modern Anyuan coal mine threatened to exclude local notables from the mining business altogether, even the Wens withdrew their support.

Fanning the flames of local resentment was the role of foreigners and foreign know-how in the establishment of the Pingxiang Mine. At Sheng's invitation, more than thirty German engineers were hired to help introduce an impressive package of advanced methods of production: "Mechanized power replaced human labor, as Western drills and explosives extracted coal from the walls of the vertical mines, and electric winches hauled it out of the pits. In 1904, two horizontal adits went into operation, equipped with German-built electric trains to haul out the coal. Coal from the Pingxiang mines was sent to one of the modern scrubbing plants housed in multistory buildings near the adits. After purification, it was coked in one of about three hundred new German coking ovens."

Unwelcome as the foreign intrusion was to the local elite, it proved economically successful. Within the space of a decade, the Pingxiang Mining Company at Anyuan had amalgamated with Sheng Xuanhuai's two major concerns in Hubei Province, the Hanyang ironworks and the Daye iron mine, to become the largest Chinese-owned industrial conglomerate in the country, the Hanyeping Coal and Iron Company, headquartered in Shanghai. A railroad, known as the Zhuping railway because it connected Pingxiang to Zhuzhou, was built to transport the coal from Anyuan to Hunan—and then by river to Hubei (see map 2). The Pingxiang Railway and Mining Company, as the colliery was now formally known, was also outfitted with its own machine shop, foundry, repair shop, and coking stations. As a comprehensive embodiment of the late imperial self-strengthening reform project, the mining company opened a savings bank in 1899, and in 1904 it opened a fully equipped hospital whose staff soon included more than twenty Chinese and foreign doctors. The modern complex even boasted a Western-style public garden, complete with dining facilities and a small zoo, on one of the hills just above the main entrance to the mine.

The development of such an ambitious industrial enterprise, stocked with state-of-the-art machinery from Germany, required substantial capital. Funding came in part from money borrowed from Sheng Xuanhuai's other enterprises and in part from loans by German and Japanese financiers. Despite this foreign financial assistance, ownership and overall management of the Anyuan mine (like that of its parent, the Hanyeping Coal and Iron Company) remained in Chinese hands. In 1908, Sheng registered the Hanyeping Coal and Iron Company with the Ministry of Commerce as a limited liability joint-stock company in a bid to attract additional private Chinese capital. Economic historian Albert Feuerwerker characterizes the Hanyeping conglomerate as "the most ambitious industrial enterprise attempted in late-Ch'ing [Qing] China."

By 1909 the Pingxiang Mining Company was producing more than one thousand tons of coal a day, enough to meet the needs of the Hanyang ironworks. Two years later, the daily output had soared to over 2,200 tons per day, making Anyuan the largest Chinese-owned coal mine in the country (in terms of both the tonnage of coal produced and the size of the labor force). The high quality (low sulfur content) of its coke, which was equivalent to the finest English product, rendered Pingxiang coal particularly suitable for use in steamships and in the manufacture of heavy industrial products. The coal was so prized on the international market that Japan included a demand for control of the Pingxiang coal mine as part of its notorious, but in the end unsuccessful, Twenty-One Demands. By the end of World War I, coal from Anyuan had replaced Japanese coal as the primary supplier for both industrial use and household consumption throughout the Yangzi valley.

The modern coal mine brought a sudden influx of new residents to the once small town of Anyuan and its surrounding county. The basic labor force, recruited primarily from among peasant families in Pingxiang and the nearby Hunan countryside, soon numbered well over ten thousand miners and over a thousand railway workers. Initially Pingxiang locals comprised the majority of miners, but before long they had been overtaken by Hunanese, contributing to a certain tension between the two groups despite similarities in language and customs. The most backbreaking and dangerous underground work of digging and hauling was relegated to laborers from the Hunan counties of Xiangtan and Liling (the native places of Mao Zedong and Li Lisan, respectively). These workers—known for a fondness for betel nut as well as for hot chili peppers—maintained close connections with their home villages, returning regularly for holidays and to recuperate from injuries, illness, and exhaustion. Many of the railway workers, who also hailed predominantly from Hunan, enjoyed a level of education and training that set them apart from the illiterate and unskilled miners. But their common dialect and local identity facilitated communication and collective action across occupational lines. By contrast, the railway workers and miners did not interact easily with the hundreds of relatively well-paid mechanics recruited from distant cities in Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Guangdong. The skilled technicians, whose native tongue was Shanghainese or Cantonese, were accustomed to the amenities of urban living and considered themselves a cut above the local rubes. Further complicating interpersonal relations were the several dozen highly paid German engineers employed to maintain the imported machinery. As a mark of their cultural separation, neither the Germans nor the Chinese technicians from afar deigned to take part in the rowdy folk festivals that enlivened public holidays in this part of China, preferring to pass such occasions indoors listening to music or playing mah-jongg.

The rapid industrialization and attendant demographic diversification at Anyuan aroused concern on the part of many local residents, who saw the developments as a threat to their traditional way of life. Mistrust of the alien machinery sparked widespread apprehension. A native of Pingxiang recalled, "A weird variety of rumors circulated throughout the county seat and countryside. Some contended that the railroad destroyed the fengshui (the mystic balance of nature), thereby disturbing ancestral graves. Others insisted that a child had to be fed into the locomotive's smokestack each day before it would run, and the same was reportedly true of the chimney at the coal mine. There was deep-seated hatred for such new monsters as trains and mechanized coal mines." Locals regarded the mysterious movements of the trains and blast furnaces as a menace to the prevailing cosmic order. That these "new monsters" were tended by foreign overseers was an additional irritant. The Germans, who resided in "elaborate foreign living quarters with tennis courts and beer halls," presented a visible target for xenophobic animosity.

The arrival of Gustavus Leinung, chief engineer at the mine during its first two decades of operation, generated considerable commotion in this area of the Chinese heartland where the local gentry had a reputation for antiforeign hostility. Even before Leinung made his first appearance, notices were posted around the county accusing the foreigner of intending to "suck out Pingxiang's marrow" and calling upon every household in the county to "send forth one armed person to attack him in the alleys or kill him in the fields." The animosity was due not simply to raw xenophobia, or even to the fear of foreign technology and machinery, but also to a pragmatic interest in protecting the lifeblood of the Pingxiang gentry, who for centuries had benefited from the hundreds of private coal mines dotting the Anyuan landscape. In January 1898, instructions from a worried Sheng Xuanhuai warned Leinung of the ferocity of the local populace and cautioned him never to venture out without the express permission of the factory director in order to ensure ample protection. Antipathy to the foreigner may have been strongest at the outset of Leinung's tenure, but it never entirely subsided:

Upon his first arrival at Pingsiang [Pingxiang] he was the object of awe and amazement to the natives who had never seen a European. All sorts of beliefs were held about him. He was said to have three eyes, one at the back of his head, and it was believed that he could see deep into the bowels of the earth and detect the treasures there. When he entered Pingsiang for the first time in 1896 the natives were sitting on the roofs of houses to see him. He was put into a small room in an ancestral hall in which there was a grated window, and the people were allowed to come along in squads of 10 or 12 to have a look at him, as though he were a rare zoological specimen.... During the first year there were always 200 soldiers around Mr. Leinung.... At this time there was very strong anti-foreign feeling in Hunan.... Two years later he had to leave due to riots and murders of missionaries.


Excerpted from Anyuan by Elizabeth J. Perry. Copyright © 2012 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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Table of Contents

List Of Illustrations xi

Acknowledgments xiii

Maps xvi

Introduction 1

1 Rehearsing Revolution 15

2 Teaching Revolution: The Strike of 1922 46

3 China's Little Moscow 78

4 From Mobilization to Militarization 124

5 Constructing a Revolutionary Tradition 153

6 Mao's Final Crusade: Purifying the Revolutionary Tradition 205

7 Reforming the Revolutionary Tradition 247

Conclusion 283

Notes 297

Glossary 357

Bibliography of English-Language Sources 361

Index 375

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