Nanniwan: a Retrospect
So why then the great bruhaha over Nanniwan? Above all, what did its original promoter(s), from Zhu De and Ren Bishi, have in mind? In the end, probably nothing more than morale-boosting and example-setting through overly prodigious “PR”, Red Style – culminating in (as noted) a 1944 film-doc and a high-profile tour for a group of Americans scheduled to visit the “stage-set” in Aug. 1944. By which time, however, the mission of Wang Zhen’s Brigade was already obsolete or scheduled for shut-down, with the dispatch of the 329th to the front on Oct. of that year (there would be no more reclamation or for that matter 8RA involved in “farming” it.
The propaganda message was simple in the extreme. First, the 8RA as a whole (at least in the NW) was determined not to remain a “tax” burden on the 2-odd millions of producers who occupied the “Special Area”, the showcase and also (therefore) try-out stage for “looking ahead” experiments. Second, as a message to the pre-existing peasant and trading population, that there was much room for expanding production of many necessities (first of all food, of course) if an organized effort were made to bring lesser grade and/or abandoned land back into millet and perhaps other cereals cultivation. And third, of course (in this case a gross deception) that within a year or two, the Yenan “rear” could become entirely self-sufficient, invulnerable to whatever form of blockade the “Red” monolith might have to contend with. Of course, the last was a kind of prelude or trial version of “Maoist” economics in the decade or so preceding the GPCR, with its now discredited slogan of “improving our lot with our own labor [alone]”: a Saint-Simonian utopian claim that the cash-nexus and its rewarding of productivity gains via capital/credit intensification and free-market pricing was something that could be bypassed. But at this point in time, it is far from clear how far ahead the Nanniwan planners were looking. All that can be safely said is that they saw a chance for boosting the Army’s stature, expanding or renewing its popularity.
The wilderness reclaimed: Nanniwan Township today (satellite foto)
The point to keep in mind when we place the Nanniwan “exploit” in perspective is that it was then, and should now be still, evaluated by measure of how much over all was achieved by way of making the Shen-Gan-Ning Special Area self-sufficient, thus immune from the effects of quarantine and strangulation imposed (even if clumsily and indecisively) by Yan Xishan (Shanxi G-mo); Chiang Kaishek (just to the south) and of course the Japanese, who fenced in (or did they?) the Special Area from the Northeast, along the Mongolia border.
That was at least the context, and that is the basis of judgement today, at least among non-skeptics.
“Through the contributions of the “Great Production Movement in Yenan (i.e. the Shen-Gan-Ning Special Area), between [spring] 1941 and [spring[ 1942, a total of 1.8 million mu (300,000 acres) was reclaimed from wilderness for farming, facilitating a gain in foodstuff staples of 470,000 dan [in millet, at 65 kg/dan = 30.5 million kg] [N.B. +/- 17 kg/mu compares disastrously with the av 125 kg/mu in most of N China, and 250 kg/mu today in the higher productivity areas). In addition, production (spinning plus weaving) of “local cloth” (hemp?) reached 100,000 pi [approx 100,000 unlined two-piece “suits”].
The (ultimately) political objective was to cross-transfer or assume the full “food+warmth” budget that would otherwise have been carried by local producers (1.5-2 millions, or about 350,000 households, sowing about 5% of all (longstanding) arable land in the SGN Tri-Prov. Special Area.
[At stipulated daily ration 1.5 jin = .75 kg cereals ration/day/soldier]
NB, Official SA “Central Gov’t) gongliang “procurement” (grain tax in kind) peaked in 1942 at 200,000 dan = 13.2 million kg = +/i 50,000 soldier-grade consumers. In fact slightly less that half that amount (100,000 dan) was rendered unnecessary by army self-production/p.a. which implies that (soldiers+cadre) self-reclaimed/farmed land would have totalled 300,000+ “new” mu, or around 16% of the total “new-farm” margin.