The Violent history of property redistribution

Some commenters about the world wealth inbalance have indicated the wish for property redistribution like what was implemented by communist China.

It should noted that Singapore achieved economic success without the death and chaos.

South Korea achieved economic success after the Korean War. The war was not part of the success but something that was overcome.

Land reform involves the changing of laws, regulations or customs regarding land ownership. Land reform may consist of a government-initiated or government-backed property redistribution, generally of agricultural land. Land reform can, therefore, refer to transfer of ownership from the more powerful to the less powerful, such as from a relatively small number of wealthy (or noble) owners with extensive land holdings (e.g., plantations, large ranches, or agribusiness plots) to individual ownership by those who work the land. Such transfers of ownership may be with or without compensation; compensation may vary from token amounts to the full value of the land.

In 1946, three years before the foundation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), The Communist Party of China launched a thorough land reform, which won the party millions of supporters among the poor and middle peasantry. The land and other property of landlords were expropriated and redistributed so that each household in a rural village would have a comparable holding.

R.J. Rummel, an analyst of government killings, or “democide”, gives a “reasonably conservative figure” of about 4,500,000 landlords and better-off peasants killed. Philip Short estimates that at least one to three million landlords and members of their families were killed, either beaten to death on the spot by enraged peasants at mass meetings organized by local communist party work teams or reserved for public execution later on. Estimates abroad ranged as high as 28,000,000 deaths. In 1976 the U.S. State department estimated that there may have been a million killed in the land reform; Mao estimated that only 800,000 landlords were killed

Mass killings occurred under some Communist regimes during the twentieth century with an estimated death toll numbering between 85 and 100 million. Scholarship focuses on the causes of mass killings in single societies, though some claims of common causes for mass killings have been made. Some higher estimates of mass killings include not only mass murders or executions that took place during the elimination of political opponents, civil wars, terror campaigns, and land reforms, but also lives lost due to war, famine, disease, and exhaustion in labor camps

Great Leap Forward

Benjamin Valentino says that the Great Leap Forward was a cause of the Great Chinese Famine and that the worst effects of the famine were steered towards the regime’s enemies. Those labeled as “black elements” (religious leaders, rightists, rich peasants, etc.) in any earlier campaign died in the greatest numbers, as they were given the lowest priority in the allocation of food. In Mao’s Great Famine, historian Frank Dikötter writes that “coercion, terror, and systematic violence were the very foundation of the Great Leap Forward” and it “motivated one of the most deadly mass killings of human history.” His research in local and provincial Chinese archives indicates the death toll was at least 45 million, and that “In most cases the party knew very well that it was starving its own people to death.” In a secret meeting at Shanghai in 1959, Mao issued the order to procure one third of all grain from the countryside. He said: “When there is not enough to eat people starve to death. It is better to let half of the people die so that the other half can eat their fill.” Dikötter estimates that at least 2.5 million people were summarily killed or tortured to death during this period.

The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution

Sinologists Roderick MacFarquhar and Michael Schoenhals estimate that between 750,000 and 1.5 million people were killed in the violence of the Cultural Revolution, in rural China alone. Mao’s Red Guards were given carte blanche to abuse and kill the revolution’s enemies. For example, in August 1966, over 100 teachers were murdered by their students in western Beijing alone

In the mid-1950s, a second land reform during the Great Leap Forward compelled individual farmers to join collectives, which, in turn, were grouped into People’s communes with centrally controlled property rights and an egalitarian principle of distribution. This policy was generally a failure in terms of production. The PRC reversed this policy in 1962 through the proclamation of the Sixty Articles. As a result, the ownership of the basic means of production was divided into three levels with collective land ownership vested in the production team.

A third land reform beginning in the late 1970s re-introduced the family-based contract system known as the Household Responsibility System, which had enormous initial success, followed by a period of relative stagnation. Chen, Wang, and Davis [1998] suggest that the later stagnation was due, in part, to a system of periodic redistribution that encouraged over-exploitation rather than capital investment in future productivity. However, although land use rights were returned to individual farmers, collective land ownership was left undefined after the disbandment of the People’s Communes.


Here is a link to one of my article about global wealth distribution.

Here is an article about breakthroughs that will help the global poor.

SOURCES – Wikipedia, Forbes, Foreign Affairs