Hinton on mistreatment of peasants in Long Bow (1966)

Writing in his well known work Fanshen, the American author William Hinton describes how the landed gentry in Long Bow and other rural villages exploited and mistreated peasant farmers during the 1920s:

“The gentry literally held the power of life and death of the peasants and personally carried out whatever punitive measures they deemed necessary when their interests were damaged or threatened… In one famine year a Long Bow peasant child, only six years old, stole some leaves (to eat) from a tree belonging to his father’s employer. The landlord caught the boy, beat him black and blue with a stout stick, and docked his father $12. This amounted to the father’s earnings for the entire year. He had to borrow money from a relative to get through the winter and was still paying the debt a decade later.

Similar direct action was taken when rent fell in arrears or interest went unpaid. Then the landlord went in person to the home of his tenant and demanded the grain due him. If it was not forthcoming, he drove the peasant off the land or out of the house. If the peasant resisted, the landlord or one of his retainers beat him.

Should a peasant attempt to defend himself, affairs could easily take a very ugly turn. One Taihang peasant struck back at a landlord who raped his wife. He was hung by the hair of his head and beaten until his scalp separated from his skull. He fell to the ground and bled to death.

It was this back ground of corruption, favouritism, influence, peddling and violence that drove many a young peasant into gangster-type secret societies… that were endemic in the region. It was this same background that made it possible for certain powerful gentry to organise their own private armed forces, oppress and rob people at will, loot and rape and murder without fear of reprisal, and when successful, build themselves up into local warlords with power over whole districts, whole counties, and even provinces.”