After Revolution: State Building, State Failure, and Policing in Communist China

Juan Wang, McGill University

In July 1955, the National People’s Congress in China officially passed the first Five-Year Plan drafted by the National Party’s Congress. It symbolized revolutionary elites’ consensus about an upcoming stage of governance. 10 years later, however, mass insurgence and group violence took place, followed by a decade of dysfunctional state apparatus and hyper-politicized society. Why did the collective efforts of state building fail? A generation of scholars who study the Cultural Revolution has looked at elite struggles, grievances and vengeance, as well as radical careerists as enablers at the grassroots levels. This study takes a different perspective. It views the Communist Revolution and the post-revolution state building the Cultural Revolution as an analytical whole. We argue that the dual process of continuous revolution and state building conditioned state failure. First, the revolutionary emphasis on activism in recruiting state agents continued to produce radicalism. Second, the revolutionary emphasis on mass mobilization in general, and popular policing in particular, prepared the population with the knowledge of administrative coercion. Third, the revolutionary ideology against bureaucratization prevented the formation of a professional police force to maintain order and enabled the politicization of the police that distinguished “unlawful acts” from “crimes.” By 1965, a combination of radical state agents, popular participation in policing and coercion, and the politicized police force conditioned group violence and insurgence. The empirical analysis is primarily based on archival research of a county in Jiangxi province (county government work reports and the police work reports between1950 and 1963), as well as content analysis of 217 Volumes of People’s Police, a periodical published by the Ministry of Public Security that began in 1956 and stopped in late 1966. This research contributes to the scholarship of revolutionary outcome.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 17. Can Revolutions Be Permanent? New Approaches to Assessing Revolutionary Outcomes