Tiger, Tyrant, Bandit, Businessman
Echoes of Counterrevolution from New China
Brian DeMare



The County by the Lake

This book dives deep into four criminal cases, all of which occurred in a modest corner of rural China many decades ago. These explorations of bandit uprisings, midnight assassinations, fugitives on the run, and counterrevolutionaries on trial emphasize the perspectives of the villagers and townsfolk who found themselves entangled in the legal system. All four of these cases, however, were originally investigated by security officers working for the newly established People’s Republic of China as they attempted to tame the countryside for the Chinese Communist Party. Nearly everything we know about these cases comes to us through documents left by these officers, who are just as central to the stories told in this book as the accused criminals and their victims.

Few outsiders are familiar with the sliver of Jiangxi Province that serves as the setting for this book, so it may be useful to introduce the county and its history. To complicate matters, the place has gone by a few different names over the years. In ancient times it was simply known as Po. Some old-timers remember when they called it Raozhou. For a few decades, for reasons locals still debate, it was known as Boyang County. But for most of its recent history, it has been named after the massive lake lying directly to its southwest. You can’t miss it.

Lake Poyang is China’s largest freshwater lake, its vast waters stretching beyond the horizon. To the north the lake reaches into the mighty Yangtze River, which runs from the Tibetan highlands down through China’s economic heartland, including the otherwise landlocked province of Jiangxi. Sadly, in recent years the lake has fallen on hard times. When torrential storms arrive in the late summer, Lake Poyang’s waters are seemingly everywhere. Coastal communities know the fury of the lake’s floods all too well. And during dry months, when the rains stop and the sun continues to beat down on its waters, the lake is reduced to a truly pitiful state. Ever since the completion of the Three Gorges Dam in 2006, Lake Poyang, expansive but never particularly deep, suffers through severe dry spells. For surrounding villages that once relied on the lake for a nearly limitless supply of fresh water and resources, this process of destruction has been a decades-long tale of woe.1 One recent visitor found fishing boats “laid out in uneven rows, flipped upside down on the moist soil. Around them grasses were growing and cows grazing. It was once all water.”2

For most of the year, the freshwater sea of Lake Poyang is still a sight to behold. It’s not the scenery, however, that has long attracted outsiders to its shores. The strategic importance of Lake Poyang made its coastal communities worthy of attention. The lake, by far the most prominent feature of the region, is vital to local economic life. But Poyang, the largest county by population in Jiangxi and the setting for this book, is far more than its famous lake. For readers interested in the lay of the land, the county is situated in the northeast of Jiangxi Province. Past the county’s mountainous north one finds the flowing Yangtze, which serves as the border between northern Jiangxi and neighboring Anhui Province. To the east lies Jingdezhen, a major urban center, famous for the arsenal of kilns that fired out imperial China’s finest porcelains. And southwest across the expansive lake lies Nanchang, the provincial capital. As one local saying tells it: “Mountains encircle the northeast, waters converge to the southwest.”3

In the Footsteps of the Lord of Po

With almost 200 rivers large and small, and over 200 lakes besides Lake Poyang, water is of utmost importance to the county. These waterways and their strategic value brought state power to Poyang. From the very start of the imperial era, Poyang hosted a county government.4 The county proved the most durable of administrative units. For thousands of years it represented the lowest level in the state’s administrative structure, where the immense power of the ruler met the vast reality of the empire.

When the county by the lake was initially created it needed a magistrate, an official to serve the emperor and wield state power. Poyang’s first magistrate served for ten years, earning a stellar reputation as a model ruler. Later hailed as “Lord of Po” and worshiped at a temple built in his honor, he was revered as a just and diligent magistrate.5 He established his regime between Mount Zhi and the Rao River, creating what would eventually grow into today’s Poyang Town. In one of his most important acts, the Lord of Po mobilized locals to build a city wall, over two miles of fortification that symbolized imperial power from the shores of the lake. The first of many Poyang bureaucrats, he set an impossibly high standard for his successors.

The hundreds of magistrates who followed the Lord of Po during the subsequent centuries, all outsiders and all men, came to Poyang Town on behalf of their emperors to oversee everything from bandit suppression to tax collection. They handled legal affairs and enforced imperial law, serving as both prosecutor and judge. Fan Zhengci, for example, served in Poyang over a thousand years after the Lord of Po oversaw the construction of the town’s walls. Judge Fan, a native of Shandong to the far north, is now legendary for investigating and solving criminal cases.6 But in this regard he wasn’t so unique. The bureaucrats in charge of Poyang County passed judgments on accused criminals for centuries as dynasties rose and fell, setting direct precedents for the four criminal cases discussed in this book.

Magistrates served as the only official government representative at county government offices, known as the yamen. Their jobs were exceedingly difficult and only got harder over the centuries as population growth undermined their efforts to control their many subjects. At the end of the imperial era, a Poyang magistrate was responsible for the fates of over 800,000 subjects.7 The only way a magistrate could possibly govern a county as populous as Poyang was by hiring clerks and runners. These men were the yamen’s feared “talons and teeth,” doing the dirty work that kept the county government running. Clerks managed the paperwork produced by the yamen, everything from compiling tax rolls to recording criminal confessions. Runners, meanwhile, brought the power of the state out of Poyang Town and into the countryside, venturing into villages to investigate crimes, arrest criminals, and collect taxes.8 Otherwise, the imperial state largely left villagers to their own devices. Reformers had long dreamed of establishing government offices below the county level. No emperor, however, ever effectively dispatched his bureaucrats past the county yamen. Late imperial states did create administrative units that grouped together subjects to assist taxation and control, but these were run by locals, not loyal bureaucrats.

Rebels and Revolutionaries in Poyang Town

By the dawn of the twentieth century, foreign and domestic strife had pushed the Qing, the final dynasty of the imperial era, to the brink. For decades Qing subjects, seeing ever more evidence of China’s weaknesses, vacillated between blaming foreign imperialists and the dynasty’s Manchu rulers, who had once been considered non-Chinese barbarians. The fall of the ancient imperial system started with attacks on Westerners and their religion: in 1900 popular anger against Christian missionaries, skillfully channeled by local elites, exploded during the Boxer Uprising. Farmers in North China, trained in simple martial arts and believing themselves invulnerable to bullets, burned churches, killed missionaries and their converts, and flocked to Beijing in support of the Qing. In Nanchang furious protestors destroyed a Christian church and murdered a priest. When word spread across the lake to Poyang Town, locals marched to the church on Desheng Road and burned it down to the ground.9

Attacks on Westerners and Christians only increased the threat of imperialist invasion, creating ever more frustration among would-be reformers. In Poyang, as was often the case throughout the empire, ambitious young men such as Jiang Bozhang turned to revolution. Jiang was almost certainly the first Poyang man to join the Revolutionary Alliance, an underground network headed by the charismatic and cosmopolitan Sun Yat-sen. Sun, educated in Hong Kong and Hawaii, was a nationalist: he longed for a strong Chinese state, run by and for the Chinese people, and advocated for a revolution that would turn Chinese subjects into Chinese citizens.10

In 1911, not long after Jiang Bozhang embraced Sun Yat-sen’s revolutionary proposals, uprisings broke out across the empire as Chinese elites removed the Manchus from power. A collection of militarists, determined to make China strong, formed a new government up in Beijing: the Republic of China. Optimism ran high during those first days of the Republic. Sun Yat-sen, widely regarded as a radical rabble-rouser, pledged that his National People’s Party, much more commonly called the Nationalists, would work with the new government. The broad alliance that gave many Chinese hope extended down to Poyang, where Nationalist Party member Jiang Bozhang served the new regime as a police-chief.

This alliance proved short lived. Less than a year later, Beijing militarists outlawed the Nationalist Party. Jiang Bozhang fled to Japan, where he had the good fortune to meet up with Sun Yat-sen. The revolution kept moving during his absence from home. In 1921 Soviet agents, dispatched from Moscow, helped establish the Chinese Communist Party in Shanghai; three years later they helped broker an alliance between the Communists and Sun’s Nationalists. In many ways they made natural allies. Both sides believed that political mobilization could unite the Chinese people and defeat imperialism. The two parties would soon also share the exact same organizational structure, designed to command compliance from top to bottom. But because the Communists made a point to prioritize the interests of peasants and workers, the alliance was always an uneasy one. The bonds and rivalries between the Nationalists and the Communists would define Chinese politics for the next three decades. Locally, their bitter and deadly battles would set the stage for each of the four cases investigated in this book.

The Revolution Comes to Town

For the moment neither revolutionary party was welcome in Poyang, keeping Jiang Bozhang away from home. During his long absence, the Nationalist Party, and nationalism broadly, continued to grow. Jiang returned to Jiangxi to develop underground Nationalist Party organizations in 1924. Recruiting students at Poyang Academy and other local schools, he established the county branch of the Nationalist Party. Jiang’s career in Jiangxi was taking off, and he would spend the next twenty-five years bouncing between Poyang and Nanchang.11 But he wasn’t the only Poyang native advocating for revolution. Young, passionate, and driven by anti-imperialism, Li Xinhan was a prime candidate to join a revolutionary party. But he didn’t follow in the footsteps of Jiang Bozhang, who was his senior by eighteen years. Nationalism wasn’t enough. For Li it was essential to fight not only imperialists, but class enemies as well. In 1926 Li formally joined the Communist Party and was a founding member of its Poyang party branch. Just like Jiang Bozhang had done a couple of years earlier for the Nationalists, Li did his organizing in secret.12

Even as the Communists and the Nationalists remained hidden in Poyang, their alliance, heralded as a grand United Front, allowed both parties to thrive. As the ranks of both parties grew with new recruits, the Nationalists invested heavily in military education and equipment, creating a highly disciplined and politically trained army, the likes of which was previously unheard of in China. The United Front survived the untimely passing of Sun Yat-sen in 1925. The following year Sun’s successor Chiang Kai-shek launched the Northern Expedition, a military campaign that aimed to reunify the vast territories then held by dozens of regional warlords. The effort proved a wild success.

With the arrival of Northern Expedition forces in November of 1926, the revolution came to Poyang for the first of many visits. The counties surrounding the lake welcomed the Nationalists. Few farmers had much love for regional warlords.13 But wealthy elites, fearing what the Nationalists and their revolution might mean for them, fled. Lin Quanfan, the county magistrate, hearing the news of the Northern Expedition’s impending arrival, hit the road as well. Magistrate Lin, appointed to Poyang by local militarists, was the last would-be Lord of Po to call himself a magistrate. One of the officers attached to the Northern Expedition took charge of the county government, but he used a much more modern sounding title, which is still in use today: county-chief.14

The new county regime in Poyang, led by a Northern Expedition veteran, was uniquely inclusive. Working as allies under the United Front, the Nationalists put the county Security Regiment under the command of Li Xinhan, a Communist. Behind the façade of unity, however, the United Front was buckling from within. Under Sun Yat-sen, the Nationalists had attempted to represent all Chinese citizens, but as the revolution deepened during the United Front, Sun’s former party struggled to balance the interests of radicals and conservatives. The new head of the Nationalist Party, moreover, was Chiang Kai-shek, a military man and a fervent anti-Communist. As Chiang’s power continued to grow with a string of victories during the Northern Expedition, he turned on his Communist allies in a bloody purge that left thousands dead: the Shanghai Massacre of April 12, 1927. In Poyang local Nationalists expelled their now-former Communist allies from the county government. Li Xinhan wisely left town, but not before making off with the weapons of the county Security Regiment, burying thirteen guns and smuggling another ten out of Poyang Town in a coffin as he disappeared into the countryside.15

Land Wars in Poyang

Li Xinhan’s quiet sojourn reflected a much larger trend. Since their party’s founding, the Communists had focused nearly all their efforts on promoting urban revolution; now, their work in cities devastated by the Shanghai Massacre, party organizers increasingly experimented with rural revolution.16 Li Xinhan took his smuggled Nationalist guns to the Pearl Lake countryside, where he quickly got to work organizing farmers and training a makeshift militia, directly challenging local powerholders. It was only a matter of weeks before the Nationalists dispatched the county Security Regiment, recently led by Li himself, to attack the base area. Li’s new men were able to drive off the Security Regiment, but the county forces injured multiple farmers and arrested another three. Undeterred, the next day Li rallied over 3,000 Pearl Lake villagers and marched on Poyang Town. County-chief Song Dexin had no choice but to release the Pearl Lake prisoners and pay off the injured parties.17

Li Xinhan hosted a massive rally in celebration, unaware that the revolution was about to take yet another turn. Back in Poyang Town, his comrades in the county party branch had been doing their best to lay low, moving their secret headquarters to avoid detection. But on November 18, 1927, shortly after moving into their new offices near the temple where locals still worshipped the Lord of Po, they were discovered and arrested. Just as had been the case back when magistrates interrogated prisoners at the imperial yamen, county-chief Song sat in judgment of the three Communists, two men and a woman. Fooled by the young woman’s pleas that she was an innocent bystander, county-chief Song set her free. As for the other two, he had them tortured, paraded through the streets of Poyang Town, and executed.18 Within weeks the Nationalists dispatched an expeditionary force and decimated the Communists’ Pearl Lake base area. But Li Xinhan refused to go quietly. He joined up with a band of Communist guerrillas, over 200 strong. They came down from their mountain strongholds to raid targets in Poyang and nearby counties.

While the Communists experimented with rural revolution, Jiang Bozhang’s career had been on the rise. In 1930 the Nationalist Party sent him home to serve as county-chief and do something, finally, about those Communists in the countryside.19 County-chief Jiang went all-out against rural revolutionaries, even dispatching propaganda teams to Poyang villages to spread anti-Communist messages. His most important moves fell under the broad category of “bandit suppression”: sending armed forces into the countryside to eradicate any form of resistance. In April 1930 Jiang organized a military force comprised of soldiers drawn from the counties threatened by the Communist guerrillas. Launching an “encircle and annihilate” expedition, his three-pronged attack smashed the guerrilla band’s stronghold.20

Li Xinhan fled Poyang, only to return with the powerful Red Tenth Army. The Communists finally had a military of note in Poyang, and from August until November the Red Tenth Army roamed throughout the county, reestablishing party organizations and local governments. Most brazenly, the Communists seized Poyang Town and organized attacks on wealthy town residents, emptied the county jail, and redistributed captured wealth. On October 6, 1930, the Communists held a public celebration at the town’s main stage, then named in honor of Sun Yat-sen. The over 600 town residents in attendance heard Li Xinhan proclaim the establishment of a new county government, this one run by the Communists. The success of the Red Tenth Army, however, was decidedly fleeting. Shortly after getting run out of Poyang Town, the Red Tenth Army fled from the county by the lake. Jiang Bozhang, still county-chief, dispatched his forces throughout the countryside to destroy any traces of their work, creating no shortage of martyrs. The revolutionary organizations that Li Xinhan and his comrades had seemingly willed into existence collapsed, crushed by the county government Li had once served.21

Factionalism and Dysfunction: The 1930s and 1940s

Jiang Bozhang, personally directing the downfall of the Communists, cemented his authority in his home county. He and his fellow Poyang folk ran things in the county in the 1930s and ’40s, but local Nationalists split into three rival factions, a reflection of the infighting that made the Republic’s national government famously ineffective.22 Outsiders attempting to run the county had to carefully balance competing interests. Failure to do so could be dangerous. In 1932, for reasons that are still unclear, someone tried to assassinate the newly appointed county-chief.

During these years of factional infighting, the county government grew increasingly unable to carry out its duties. The Nationalists, in an attempt to tighten their control over the countryside, did break with tradition and finally established government offices below the county level. In Poyang the countryside was divided into a handful of districts. These districts, far too large to effectively control the countryside, were occasionally reshuffled and eventually abolished. Below the district government offices, the county government created township, hamlet, and neighborhood administrative units. Township government posts were given out to loyal subordinates. Hamlets and neighborhoods, formed primarily to aid taxation and conscription, were overseen by unpaid locals. Little work got done.23

And then, in 1937, locals spotted Japanese fighter planes flying over Lake Poyang. Another war was on its way. The following year, the Nationalists destroyed local railways and mined the lake to slow the Japanese offensive. This was followed by a summer of fierce fighting, with heavy casualties on both sides. The lake, observers said, ran red with the blood of both Japanese and Chinese soldiers.24 The Japanese, however, were far more interested in Lake Poyang than its surrounding communities. Even Poyang Town was largely left to its own devices during these years. That just meant that factionalism and dysfunction continued to get worse. A falling-out with either faction was dangerous. In 1932 one county-chief had been nearly assassinated. In 1944 Ding Guobing, then in his second year of running the county government, was knifed to death in Poyang Town.25

A year later the war against Japan finally ended, but soon bad tidings came again, this time from the north, announcing the start of the latest chapter in the seemingly never-ending conflict between the Communists and the Nationalists. In the aftermath of Japan’s surrender, Chiang Kai-shek had been eager to finish off his longtime rivals, woefully miscalculating how much had changed since he had the Communists on the ropes back in the early 1930s. Now led by Mao Zedong, the Communists had found a winning strategy in the countryside, rallying farmers to their cause with promises of land and dignity. The Communists, always attentive to language, made sure to emphasize that their arrival brought about the redemption and renewal of local society, a transformation that they called liberation.

The Nationalists, their armies faltering on the battlefield, had never effectively governed the countryside. The departure of Japanese imperialists created a power vacuum in Poyang, but instead of the state it was outlaws and secret societies that rushed in to fill the void. On battlefields far away from Poyang, the Communists decisively crushed their Nationalist rivals and headed south. Jiang Bozhang escaped to Taiwan, the new home for the Republic of China. He had no desire to answer to the Communists for his actions during their last visit. He never set foot in Poyang again.

New China Dawns

Nearly two decades after being chased out of Poyang, the Red Army, now known as the People’s Liberation Army, crossed south across the Yangtze River in April 1949. Marching behind these soldiers was a smaller force, this one composed largely of cadres, a catch-all term for the political workers who implemented revolution on behalf of the Communists. It was their job to take hold of the county once and for all. Before a single soldier set foot in Poyang, these cadres had already formed party committees and plans for a new county regime: the People’s Government. Like the vast majority of bureaucrats before them, they were outsiders. Mostly from the northern provinces of Hebei, Shandong, and Henan, these cadres were unfamiliar with local terrain, customs, and cuisine. Far more troubling, they would have major problems understanding the Gan dialect spoken by Poyang folk.26

On April 27 these soldiers and cadres arrived at Stone Gate Street, an important market town in the mountainous north. The road down to Poyang Town opened before them. For the leaders of the old regime, the writing was on the wall. Wu Ji, the last Nationalist to ever serve as county-chief, fled the next day, carrying off the county government’s official seal. The town he left behind had seen better days. Its roads and alleyways, over a hundred in all, had long fallen into disrepair. Bumpy and uneven, they were a terror to navigate. Only three of the roads stretched wider than three meters. Some alleyways were less than a meter wide. The town’s stout wall, first built during the reign of the Lord of Po, was long gone by the time the Communists showed up. But the town was still the closest thing to an urban center in the county. Residents looked down at visiting villagers, easily identified through subtle but telling divergences in the way they spoke. And Poyang Town certainly boasted the finest marketplace in the county, offering a rich array of wares. Eight bookstores sold everything from Western books to romance novels. At night kerosene lamps illuminated the way, a marked improvement over the oil lamps that lit the late imperial era.27

Two days after taking Stone Gate Street, a regiment of soldiers from the Second Field Army, mostly farm boys from the north, reached Poyang Town. All that was left of the Nationalist regime was the county Security Regiment. Back in the 1930s this force had hunted down Communist organizers throughout the countryside. Now they turned the town over to its new Communist rulers. Not a single shot was fired. The new People’s Government offered the men the opportunity to stay on and serve the regime. In a clear sign of the fluid loyalties in Poyang, over seventy of them signed up to help the Communists keep order.28

The Communists, of course, had been to this town before. They first arrived as part of Chiang Kai-shek’s Northern Expedition in 1927, only to be driven into the countryside after the collapse of the United Front. And the Red Tenth Army seized the town in 1930 before Jiang Bozhang and the Nationalists quickly sent them packing. But when the Communists came to town in 1949, they came to stay. The cadres assigned to run the county government, eager to exert their control, quickly took over one of the mainstays of the old regime: the Public Security Bureau. Established back in 1926 when the Nationalists modernized the county government, the bureau was staffed with patrolmen, police officers, and street sweepers, all under a police-chief.29

The county’s Public Security Bureau, headquartered in Poyang Town, now enforced party justice in Poyang. Back up north, at least a few security officers were abusing the power given to them by the new People’s Republic. According to one local study, officers in a North China county rode their motorcycles to the houses of suspects at night. Breaking down doors, they beat and tormented their victims in the search for evidence.30 There is no evidence that Poyang officers abused locals in such a manner, but the northern cadres running the Public Security Bureau held real authority. They oversaw an expansive security apparatus, controlling everything from investigating political crimes to running detention centers.31 Critically, these officers would be on the front lines as the Communists broke with tradition and brought state power out of government offices and into Poyang villages.

At three in the afternoon on May 1, the party celebrated the official liberation of Poyang. The town quickly took on the trappings of what the Communists called New China. Some of the first changes were in the names of local streets. The lane that housed imperial and Nationalist government offices was reborn as Liberation Street. Liberation Street ran north to south, perpendicular with May 1st Avenue, named in honor of the day the county was formally declared part of New China. Nanchang, the provincial capital, welcomed the People’s Liberation Army three weeks later. Before another month had passed, life began to return to some semblance of normalcy, with commercial boats once again sailing the waters of Lake Poyang.32 But the transformation of the countryside was just getting started. Imperial governments had been content to rule from Poyang Town. The Nationalists had set up a loose network of local administration, largely leaving villagers to their own devices. The Communists, in stark contrast, were determined to remake rural China from the bottom up.

Down to the Grassroots: Into Village Poyang

Despite the many battles that took place on its freshwater sea, the county by the lake largely avoided the destruction of the Japanese invasion and the subsequent Civil War. This was an overwhelmingly rural place, with little to attract outsiders besides the strategic lake. There wasn’t much in the way of modern industry in the county, with sleepy Poyang Town the closest thing to an urban center. Out in the countryside, farming followed ancient practices. As one local explained, villagers

still use buffaloes to pull the plough as the Chinese have been doing for thousands of years; they still use shoulder poles and wheelbarrows to transport goods; they still plant rice by hand, one bunch at a time; and they still thresh rice by hitting the crop against a wooden board. In this respect, nothing has changed.33

Poyang farmers grew a diverse portfolio of crops, including beans, watermelons, tobacco, and tea. More than anything else, rice, cultivated in flooded paddy fields, dominated the countryside. Farmers used organic fertilizers of animal and human manure. Without the benefit of insecticides, they relied on birds and frogs to help keep pests under control. Villages were largely self-sufficient and isolated from each other, and seemingly worlds away from the political dramas of Poyang Town. During the winter, village women spun fluffed cotton into yarn using traditional spinning wheels. Women also made shoes and wove wheat and barley straw into hats during the summer months. Bamboo leaves, skillfully crafted into hats, kept villagers dry from the rain. Even bed mattresses, mosquito nets, and quilts were produced in the village. There was almost no commercial interaction between villages, and little social or cultural interchange either. Villages were typically composed of families from a handful of lineages, with many villages named after their most powerful clans. Gravel roads in the countryside were still decades away.34

The lake’s low and flat alluvial plain covered the southwestern portion of the county where Poyang’s many rivers converged. Here, aside from a few wealthy households with sturdy brick houses, most villagers used earthen materials to construct simple shelters. Moving to the northwest travelers encountered hills and eventually high mountain ranges, stretching in unbroken chains, encircling the county. Accounting for nearly one-half of the county’s land, these hills and mountains housed bamboo groves and dense forests of conifers and broad-leaved trees. The mountains and their forests were essential to the local economy, providing lumber for housing and for the market. Chinese fir trunks were especially valued for coffins, a major expense in local society and a convenient container for smuggling guns out of Poyang Town. Villagers found endless uses for bamboo, crafting farming and fishing tools and harvesting tender and tasty shoots in the spring and winter.35

For decades Poyang villagers had largely escaped the horrors of war, even as Lake Poyang ran red with blood. In 1949, as their long isolation finally ended, many villagers waited with cautious optimism, while many others waited in fear. The arrival of the Communists, however, was slowed considerably by fierce resistance from locals. Some were petty hooligans of little significance, while others grouped together in well-organized armies led by men with clear ties to the Nationalists. The People’s Government considered all of them bandits, using the very same language that the Nationalists had used when they hunted down Communists in the countryside. The new Jiangxi regime, surveying the province’s mountains, lakes, and rivers, counted over 37,600 bandits, grouped in some 240 gangs of various sizes. Bringing them to justice presented a true challenge. As some Jiangxi outlaws were known to say: “The People’s Liberation Army has their soldiers and horses. We have our mountains.”36

Some of the fiercest resistance, aimed at the heart of the new regime, occurred during the trying summer of 1949. Matters were greatly complicated by the widespread collapse of water-control systems, which unleashed massive floods. During the flooding of that first summer of New China, with water rising five feet high in Poyang Town, boats sailed down Liberation Street. And still the enemies of the new regime came. Three hundred men banded together on June 25 to strike at the county government. Their assault was a total failure, with seven attackers killed before the rest fled in panic. That same day, the People’s Liberation Army dispatched soldiers to start the difficult process of rooting their enemies out of the mountains.37

The New Order and Its Enemies

Control was clearly of great concern in Poyang. But the problem wasn’t confined to the county. Throughout Jiangxi, the Communists saw threats on all sides. In mid-July, provincial party leaders issued a directive on “weeding out traitors.” Counterrevolutionaries, the directive noted, were going underground, preserving their military power, and secretly moving throughout the province. As forcefully explained in the Jiangxi Daily in August, the new regime sought to punish leaders, not followers. Those who confessed were promised lenient treatment.38

In urban centers Jiangxi officers moved on suspected Nationalist intelligence organizations. In Jiujiang City, just north of Lake Poyang, security officers arrested a group of Nationalist loyalists, accusing the men of establishing an underground government. According to the security officers who cracked that case, these men had set up a broadcasting station and sent Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalists dozens of reports concerning political and military affairs. With the Civil War still ongoing, they even coordinated aerial attacks on the city. Jiangxi party leaders, also concerned with the rural order, pressed security officers to work with the People’s Liberation Army to pacify the countryside. As they warned, bandits and spies roamed widely, finding shelter in mountainous forests where they stashed away weapons and waited for a chance to attack. In Poyang, bandits ambushed nineteen soldiers escorting three grain barges through one of the county’s many lakes. All of them were martyred.39

With security a top concern, the Public Security Bureau needed men to help bring order to town and country. By the end of 1949 the province could count on 1,816 officers to investigate counterrevolution in Jiangxi. Some, especially Bureau leaders, had just recently arrived from the north. But most were locals, recruited and trained only after the People’s Liberation Army crossed the Yangtze River.40 Many were holdovers from the old Nationalist regime. Holdover officers were politically suspect, but they were desperately needed. The pacification of the countryside produced huge numbers of criminals. Many of these bandits lurked in the mountains near Lake Poyang.41

A first campaign against the largest bandit armies in Jiangxi eliminated tens of thousands of men and captured a massive arsenal of weapons. Subsequent campaigns focused on ever smaller groups of holdouts, men who only attacked when victory was assured, often with popular support that the Communists blamed on superstition and the power of landlords and other class enemies.42 The first investigation in this book, “Bandits, Big Swords, and the Rebel Scholar,” details the rise and fall of one bandit uprising as Poyang villagers tried and failed to oust Communist interlopers. Increasingly, battles such as these were fought by Jiangxi security forces. The People’s Liberation Army had to keep on moving, leaving Jiangxi for the far southwest, where they once again encountered fierce resistance.43

Back in Poyang Town, the Communists continued to cement their power. On October 1 the new regime hosted a public rally, lighting lamps that night in recognition of the formal founding of the People’s Republic of China up north in Beijing. The cadres running the county government moved quickly to institute a system of control. Following the precedent of the departed Nationalists, they divided their newly won territory into districts. The county cadres initially established eight districts but by November, finding these large administrative units too unwieldly, they redrew Poyang into twelve smaller districts, not including Poyang Town. Each district was further subdivided into townships, fully staffed with bureaucrats answering to higher-ups in the People’s Republic.44

The documents generated by the new People’s Government typically referred to Poyang communities by their administrative names. Old County Crossing became the seat of the Fourth District. Fengtian Village was identified as part of the Twelfth Hamlet. The cadres serving as bureaucrats, many recently arrived from the north, used this numerical administrative system to refer to Poyang localities in the documents they left behind. Readers take note: these records, created in a bureaucratic system led by outsiders, were used to create this book.

New China, New Poyang

The Communists invited local representatives from the newly redistricted county to Poyang Town. These representatives, drawn from all walks of life, gathered for the first time in the newly named May 1st Auditorium. There they discussed increasing production and managing local industries.45 Activists from the countryside also came to Poyang Town, where they received a crash course in basic literacy. The first lesson in their textbook covered basic hygiene, including instructions on keeping their fingernails, noses, and necks clean. Another practical lesson was avoiding dysentery. The students also learned about the history of the People’s Liberation Army, and how things would change now that the Communists were the ones calling the shots.46

One universally welcomed change was the return of a government that was committed to water control. In May 1950 The People’s Daily, the party’s official newspaper, reported the successful completion of repairs to the dikes surrounding Lake Poyang, securing the livelihood of 360,000 farmers. Using the slogan of “providing work to relieve poverty,” county governments mobilized villagers to repair the dikes. On any given day, some 125,000 workers helped complete the project before spring planting. Pressed to “rush for the red flag,” workers formed “commando units” to engage in labor competitions. The following month, the paper noted that many bandits had returned to farming after the restoration of local dikes.47 This return to normalcy, however, only belied even greater transformations to come.

Back when the Nationalists were in charge an undersized, privately run power plant only generated enough electricity to power a small part of Poyang Town for about four hours a night. The plant suffered from constant power failures. The new regime built its own power plant, bringing electricity to their offices. Electric lights soon illuminated May 1st Avenue, now tripled in width to fifteen meters across. Construction started on the county’s first movie theater. There were other changes. Ever since the late imperial era, Poyang Town residents had flocked to River Road, home to over twenty teahouses. Teahouse owners set up bamboo couches for customers, who ordered snacks to munch on. But no teahouses could be found in New Poyang, only small stands where citizens could buy a quick cup of tea.48

In the countryside, which would not have electricity for decades, much work remained. The Communists moved to bring party rule down to the village level through campaigns: mass political movements, directed by work teams dispatched to the countryside. In April 1950 the county began rent-reduction campaigns, starting the process of weakening village elites by mobilizing their tenants to demand lower rents. This was combined with targeted attacks on evil tyrants, men who had abused their power as the old Nationalist regime slowly crumbled. This book’s second casefile, “Big Tiger, Tyrant of the Mountain,” explores the crimes, arrest, and trial of one such accused evil tyrant.

In June the county government launched Poyang’s first land reform campaign, an intervention into local society far beyond anything even proposed by earlier regimes. During land reform, work teams mobilized village activists to restructure land holdings and give political power to the rural poor. They also helped form peasant associations, which would extend the reach of the People’s Government down to the grassroots. Work teams ventured into a countryside that had been largely cleared of bandits, but there were still major challenges awaiting the Communists. To start, the bureaucrats running Poyang were vastly outnumbered. In 1950 only 184 cadres worked for the county government in Poyang Town. Almost half of them worked for the Public Security Bureau to help tame the countryside. Nineteen were staffed in the county’s Tax Bureau. Another 350 were distributed in the county’s twelve rural districts, with most offices staffed with twenty-five to thirty workers. During these early days, the county and district governments did not pay their bureaucrats a fixed salary, and instead distributed grain and cloth rations as needed.49

No one was getting rich working for the new regime, but those who threw their lot in with the Communists may have been better positioned as the revolution came to Poyang villages. With land reform underway, the county government was prosecuting anyone who pushed back against rural campaigns, as well as punishing rural power holders for mistreating their neighbors under Nationalist rule. This is exactly what happened in “The Case of the Bodhisattva Society,” the third investigation explored in this book. As readers will discover, the criminals behind what security officers called the Bodhisattva Society were brought to justice in a unique legal system. In Poyang the Communists drew on Nationalist traditions, taking over the old Judicial Administrative Section to deal with common criminals.50 But the Communists also insisted that the administration of justice must be led by the party. Rejecting Nationalist legal traditions as “reactionary old laws,” the party passed broad statutes promising severe punishment for counterrevolutionaries and any citizen who defied the new regime.51 Criminals uncovered during campaigns of rural revolution would be prosecuted in a new system of tribunal courts, which functioned alongside the more traditional court system.

Party Justice, Southbound and Down

The result was a dual-track legal system. Common criminals, including bandits and spies, were tried in the People’s Court, where sentences ranged from the death penalty and forced labor to public apologies. But land reform and other revolutionary campaigns created a flood of cases against criminal landlords and evil tyrants. For these cases, the county established the People’s Tribunal. In recognition of the wide scope of the task at hand, county cadres established branch tribunals at the district level.52 These tribunals, in conjunction with peasant associations, became the “legal executor” of land reform and the party’s push into village Poyang.53 These lower tribunals all answered to the new regime in Poyang Town. As readers will see in this book’s final casefile, “Merchant Zha Goes to Court,” this gave the cadres running the county government great power. Just as had been the case for magistrates centuries earlier, the county-chief decided the fates of the condemned.

The four casefiles profiled in this book all occurred in the countryside, but during the late 1940s and early 1950s village China was anything but tranquil. This was especially true once the rumors concerning war with the United States in Korea started circulating. The tales spun by rumormongers were wild: The People’s Liberation Army had already surrendered, and North Korea had been obliterated by American bombs. The North Korean government had fled into China. Lin Biao, the feisty Chinese general who had led the Communists to victory in the Civil War, had perished in the bombing. Kim Il Sung had committed suicide. American bombs had cowed the Chinese Communists into signing a peace treaty. A People’s Liberation Army attack on Taiwan had failed. World War III had begun.54

None of this was confined to Poyang, or even Jiangxi Province. The paranoia went all the way to the core of the People’s Republic. In November 1950 Mao Zedong asked the top leaders of the Public Security Bureau to move against the enemies he saw everywhere. Within days the Administrative Council and the Supreme People’s Court issued the “Directive Concerning the Suppression of Counterrevolutionary Activities,” launching a nationwide hunt for enemies of the new regime. By the time the campaign to suppress counterrevolutionaries came to an end in mid-1953, hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens had been executed.55

The Communists seemed to encounter counterrevolution everywhere. To the south in Fujian spies and bandits organized riots, pushed back against tax collection, and spread rumors. They infiltrated government offices, sabotaged production, and murdered cadres. Bandits roamed through multiple counties in Hunan Province to the north. Seemingly without regard for the new regime, they murdered cadres and activists, undermined peasant associations, and organized riots. Spies established secret cabals, placed undercover agents in the new regime, and conducted counterrevolutionary propaganda. In Guilin to the southwest, bandits lobbed a grenade into a general goods store, injuring seven. In Guangxi, one of the last provinces to welcome the new regime, bandits put bounties on the heads of peasant activists, offering a huge haul of grain for would-be assassins.56

These hints and rumors suggesting widespread resistance in New China can be found in the pages of Internal Reference Materials, a journal distributed to ranking party members. These reports reveal that lurking beneath the pomp and circumstance of the party’s marches of liberation lay intense concern over local unrest. For decades this journal provided a rare glimpse into the world of counterrevolution, but this glimpse was slight indeed. Readers of Internal Reference Materials were only privy to a basic overview of the evil deeds of the men the party called bandits, evil tyrant landlords, and spies. Who exactly were these counterrevolutionaries, and why did they risk everything to resist the Communists? Why might a Confucian scholar throw in his lot with violent rebels? What drove a farmer to murder a Communist organizer? Could men charged as evil tyrants avoid the new regime’s punishment by relying on local superstitions and family bonds? And what happens when the accused is innocent? Let’s find out.


1. This includes Gao Village, studied in depth by Mobo Gao, himself a Poyang local. According to Gao, the process of the lake’s destruction really started in the 1970s. See Mobo C. F. Gao, Gao Village Revisited: The Life of Rural People in Contemporary China (New York: Columbia University Press, 2019), 37.

2. Wade Shepard, Ghost Cities of China: The Story of Cities without People in the World’s Most Populated Country (London: Zed Books, 2015), 165.

3. In Chinese: “shan huan dongbei, shui hui xinan.” The county is shaped like an upright, if imperfect, rectangle. Measuring 72.8 kilometers from east to west and 90.2 kilometers from north to south (4,214.68 square kilometers), Poyang is over twice as large as Luxembourg, or about the same size as the state of Rhode Island. This and much of the background information on Poyang found in this book comes from Poyang County’s official gazetteer, a gigantic two-volume collection that details the county’s history in detail. Among the gazetteers I’ve used over the years, this is one of the best in terms of depth and breadth of coverage. I don’t blame the publishers for the decision to use a photograph of birds flying over Lake Poyang’s vast waters for the cover of the collection. But from a historian’s perspective the lake is just about the most uninteresting thing about Poyang. Poyang xian zhi (Beijing: Fangzhi chubanshe, 2010), 1.

4. For readers interested in a more detailed history of Poyang, the region began to attract the attention of outsiders as early as the Warring States era, a time when what we now call China was divided up into a multiplicity of small kingdoms, each vying for supremacy. Between 500 and 300 BCE, Poyang belonged to a succession of kingdoms as their fortunes rose and fell. During the Warring States the region was known as Po, although the character used at the time is now pronounced Pan. Po passed between Chu, Wu, and Yue, three of the most famous kingdoms of the era. Originally part of Chu, Po was first seized by the kingdom of Wu. Later, King Goujian of Yue, who famously “slept on brushwood and tasted gall” to remind him of his humiliation at the hands of the King Fuchai of Wu, crushed his rival and added Po to his growing kingdom. But as the number of kingdoms dwindled, it was the revitalized Chu state that controlled Po during the final decades of the Warring States era. The kings fighting over Lake Poyang and its shores were regional strongmen who relied on extended family networks to rule their states. Eventually one of these kings conquered his foes and declared himself emperor. The elimination of rival states and the subsequent establishment of the Qin dynasty in 221 BCE marked the start of the imperial era. The founder of that dynasty was only the first of many emperors who would project power from distant throne rooms down to the shores of Lake Poyang, all the better to defend the realm and collect taxes from local farmers, artisans, and merchants. Like all those who followed him, be they emperors or revolutionaries, he relied on bureaucrats to get the job done. The First Emperor divided his realm into thirty-five commanderies. The Jiujiang Commandery, headquartered on the northern banks of the Yangtze, governed Po and six other newly created counties. Readers interested in knowing more about the county’s past are encouraged to start with the timeline found here: Poyang xian zhi, 8–14.

5. The First Emperor entrusted Wu Rui to represent him in Po. Wu Rui was a formidable local with a lineage that stretched back to some of the most famous kings of the Warring States era. He traced his lineage back to the kings of Wu, including the famous King Fuchai, who had so humiliated King Goujian and drove him to vengeance. Wu Rui’s father had served as minister of war for the Chu kingdom, until he fell from favor and was banished to Po. This was the territory Wu Rui would now govern on behalf of the First Emperor. The term used for “magistrate” during his rule was xianling. According to Poyang lore, the Lord of Po enlightened his subjects and, very important in the water-soaked lands astride the lake, was quick to provide disaster relief. See the biography of the “Lord of Po” in Poyang xian zhi, 266.

6. The magistrates who followed the Lord of Po were not locals. Learning that officials posted to their native places were most likely to enrich their relatives, deviate from their imperial instructions, or perhaps even rise in rebellion, imperial states used the “law of avoidance”: magistrates had to be outsiders. This helped magistrates and other bureaucrats avoid entanglements as they implemented the will of the imperial state in Poyang. There were multiple terms used for magistrate, including xianling, zhixian, and zhishi. Judge Fan wasn’t magistrate of Poyang County but a zhizhou, senior provincial government official. The final dynasty, the Qing, dispatched ninety-six magistrates to Poyang over the course of its long history. For a list of magistrates see Poyang xian zhi, 421–24.

7. The first census on record, taken shortly after the Battle of Lake Poyang during the early years of the Ming dynasty, counted 41,210 households and 211,150 subjects in the county. The final census taken in the imperial era, taken in 1869 when the Qing dynasty and the imperial era itself was well into its slow decline, counted 110,039 households and 846,124 subjects. The Qing dynasty numbers list households and ding, men eligible for labor service. These numbers are to be taken as rough estimates. Poyang xian zhi, 150. As of 2017 the county was the largest in Jiangxi, with over 1.5 million residents. Gao, Gao Village Revisited, 201.

8. For how imperial yamens operated see Bradley Reed, Talons and Teeth: County Clerks and Runners in the Qing Dynasty (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000).

9. A year later the Catholics of Poyang built a new church. Soon priests and nuns from France, Italy, and the United States found their way to Poyang Town. Poyang xian zhi, 200.

10. Sun Yat-sen’s seemingly simple approach to Chinese nationalism would cause no shortage of questions. Who, for example, could be defined as “Chinese”? The answer to that question would change after the Manchus were removed from power.

11. According to Poyang historians, in 1926 Chiang Kai-shek appointed Jiang Bozhang to serve as a committee member of the Financial Affairs Council (caiwu weiyuanhui). He was also selected to represent Jiangxi at the Nationalist Party Second Representative General Assembly and was given roles in the provincial government. In addition, he found time to teach literature and history at his alma mater, Poyang Academy. For more, see his biography: Poyang xian zhi, 289–90.

12. During these years, county magistrates were no longer chosen by emperors but by the regional militarists that the two revolutionary parties had joined together to defeat. Two of the final three magistrates in Poyang before the arrival of the Northern Expedition were Jiangxi men; the third was from neighboring Anhui Province. Poyang xian zhi, 424.

13. In 1921 one had destroyed local dikes to flood advancing troops, bringing much destruction to farmlands. “In the Yangtse Valley. III—Hankow and the British Surrender,” Irish Times, May 3, 1927, 11.

14. Three regiments from the Second Army, Fifth Division of the National Revolutionary Army arrived in Poyang Town in mid-November. Lin Quanfan used the old title zhishi; Li Baijia used the modern title xianzhang.

15. This Machiavellian turn on his erstwhile allies shocked many in Chiang’s own party, cleaving the Nationalists in two. Many conservatives supported Chiang’s move and pressed for more purges, but a strong left wing of the party hoped to salvage the United Front. Following Chiang’s lead in Shanghai, conservative elements among Poyang Nationalists started moving against local Communists, reaching out to allies in Nanchang, perhaps through Jiang Bozhang, for support. In response Li Xinhan went on the offensive, directing his men in the county Security Regiment to arrest a dozen or so power holders. Charging the men as “local bullies,” Li moved to put the men on trial for exploiting and abusing the Poyang masses. The wife of one of the arrested men visited Li at night, carrying two bags filled with gold, silver, and jewelry. Li refused the bribe and had the accused men executed after a public trial the following day. Li Xinhan’s revolutionary justice reverberated through the county but did not reflect the true balance of power between the two parties. Poyang xian zhi, 300–301.

16. This wasn’t the only change forged in the crucible of April 12. For Communist Party leaders, the Shanghai Massacre revealed the dire need for their own army. They got one on the first day of August, when several thousand soldiers and cadres, nominally under the Nationalists, seized Nanchang, just across Lake Poyang, for the Communists. In later years, the Nanchang Uprising of 1927 would become heralded as the birth of the Communists’ famed Red Army, but there was very little to celebrate on that day. The newly formed Red Army was quickly routed by Nationalist forces and forced to leave Nanchang and Jiangxi altogether. As Stephen C. Averill has aptly put it, this was “in fact a poorly planned, last-ditch attempt” by the Communists to “reverse the rising tide of reaction that threatened to swamp the Great Revolution.” Stephen C. Averill, “Party, Society, and Local Elite in the Jiangxi Communist Movement,” Journal of Asian Studies 46, no. 2 (May 1987): 279.

17. As was then common among Communist organizers, Li called the base area government a “soviet.” The official history of Poyang contains detailed discussions of the Pearl Lake (Zhuhu) Soviet. But one footnote admits that there is some doubt that the soviet was in fact formed; according to their investigation, it was “entirely possible” that the soviet existed, citing a history of party activity in the county as evidence. See Poyang xian zhi, 16.

18. For the discovery of the party branch headquarters, see ibid., 295.

19. His rise to county-chief would have been unimaginable in imperial times when magistrates were always outsiders. But during the Republic, especially in times of crisis, a local man such as Jiang could rise to considerable power over his hometown. The first magistrate to rule over Poyang County after the fall of the Qing, Zuo Xiangzhong, was a Poyang native. Zuo and Jiang Bozhang are the only Poyang natives to serve as county leaders during the Republic, but others hailed from Nanchang and other nearby places. See ibid., 424.

20. Jiang Bozhang was deputized as commander of the Second Region for this campaign. The Xiaolingshan base area was briefly re-established before getting crushed for a second time by forces under Jiang Bozhang, who then led the Security Regiment to “clear the countryside.” According to Jiangxi historians, Jiang and his men murdered, burned, and looted their way through villages. See ibid., 17, 294.

21. The Red Tenth Army was first founded in the spring of 1929 as the North Jiangxi Northeast Independent Red Army (Gan dongbei duli tuan), becoming the Red Tenth Army in July 1930. After Jiang Bozhang oversaw the destruction of the Xiaojialing base area, the remnants of the Xiaojialing Guerrilla Band (1928–30) joined up with the Red Tenth Army. They broke through Jiang Bozhang’s carefully established defensive lines and took the high ground to the northwest of the town at Mount Zhi, capturing the cannons there. The city walls, never repaired after the Taipings captured the town eight decades earlier, had long ceased to offer much defense. The Red Tenth Army first seized the town on August 26. Before the month was over the Nationalists sent warships and airplanes from Nanchang in a surprise attack on Poyang Town; the Red Tenth Army quickly departed and returned to the countryside. They returned October 6 for a second short occupation. There was another moment of revolutionary activity in the countryside in 1933–34 with the brief formation of a base area in Zhihua Mountain (Zhihuashan geming genjudi). See ibid., 17.

22. Jiang Bozhang ran the dominant faction, linked to the powerful CC Clique. He had a worthy rival in Zhou Xiongyong, a Poyang Nationalist who rose to prominence working in government posts in Shanghai and Canton. Zhou’s faction, while never able to outmaneuver Jiang Bozhang, had seized control over local financial institutions and was a force to be reckoned with. Ibid., 373.

23. There is very little evidence of how local governments functioned during these years. See ibid., 56.

24. For English-language accounts of the coming of the war: “Japanese Extend Range of Bombing. Many Cities, Railways, Aerodromes Attacked and Number of Chinese Planes Destroyed,” North-China Herald and Supreme Court and Consular Gazette, December 22, 1937, 445; “Japan Bombs Imperil Americans. United States Warships Race to Swatow, South China Port, to Evacuate Nationals; 500 Killed and Wounded Toll of Air Raids,” Los Angeles Times, July 3, 1938, 1; “Lake Is Reddened by Chinese Battle. Japanese Gain West Bank of Poyang in Week-Long Fight,” Atlanta Constitution, July 25, 1938, 16.

25. Despite briefly taking Poyang Town in the summer of 1942, the Japanese left the county alone. Very little is known about Ding Guobing, the assassinated county-chief. According to Poyang historians, as county-chief he oversaw the destruction of local temples in 1942. Did a disgruntled believer get revenge? Had Jiang Bozhang’s faction been involved in the assassination? Jiang himself was busy in Nanchang, where he had graduated from killing Communists to serving as a provincial senator. In his spare time, he even helped write the official history of the Nationalist Party. See Poyang xian zhi, 199, 373, 384.

26. To complicate matters, two different units of cadres played a role in the early administration of the county. The initial administration was controlled by cadres attached to the Second Field Army, with cadres from the Fourth Field Army taking over Poyang administration in late August 1949. See ibid., 20. Very few of them would have spoken Gan, one of ten major dialects of Chinese. As Mobo Gao notes, the Gan dialect can be further subdivided. The Gan Chinese of Poyang County is different from the Gan Chinese spoken in Nanchang. And even inside the county there are differences in the way locals speak. Villagers, for example, have difficulty understanding the Gan Chinese spoken in Poyang Town. See Mobo C. F. Gao, Gao Village: Modern Life in Rural China (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1995), 10. The cadres assigned to Poyang were a fraction of a much larger force organized for the takeover of Nationalist-held regions. As discussed by James Gao, in 1948 the party had called for the training of some 53,000 cadres for this task, estimating that a county such as Poyang would need seventy-five cadres. Recruiting northern cadres to travel south was hampered by the localism of rural cadres, who preferred to return to farming once the Civil War ended. Southbound cadres were also forbidden from marriage for two years, lest they lose focus on the task at hand. To balance these factors, the party emphasized the honor of serving the revolution and gave southbound cadres a promotion. These cadres were not all farmers. Other southbound cadres included intellectuals, student activists, and former government employees. See James Gao, The Communist Takeover of Hangzhou: The Transformation of City and Cadre, 1949–1954 (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004), 19–52.

27. Poyang xian zhi, 736–39, 924.

28. Ibid., 532.

29. Southbound cadres initially preserved the Nationalist government structure, with separate town and county governments, but quickly moved to fold the town administration into the county government. When the first modern style county government is set up in 1926, public security (gong’an) was one of four departments, along with finance, education, and construction. The Nationalist police system had gone through multiple administrative changes. Most important, the bureau had been renamed the Inspection Office (jianchaju) in 1937, and police stations (jianchasuo) were established in district governments. Each of the district governments established by the Nationalists also had a police force. As with most things in Poyang during the Republican Era, some of these plans may have only existed on paper. Ibid., 420, 506.

30. As a result, locals had a saying that declared “where there is Public Security, no one is secure.” Edward Friedman, Paul G. Pickowicz, and Mark Selden, Chinese Village, Socialist State (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993), 153.

31. The southbound cadres originally set up dual public security bureaus for the county and city, but the city administration was eventually folded into the county government. As of 1950 the Public Security Bureau had three sections: administration, political, and public security. They also oversaw detention centers and a Public Security Squadron (gong’an dui). See Poyang xian zhi, 507.

32. For street-name changes, see Poyang xian zhi, 65. For commercial traffic, see Renmin ribao [The people’s daily], June 23, 1949, 1.

33. This poetic description of Poyang farming, courtesy of Mobo Gao, refers to the county’s more recent history. As Mobo Gao said of the residents of Poyang’s Gao Village, no one had “experienced any war and nobody has ever died in battle.” Villagers heard about the long-haired Taiping rebels but never saw one. And while the Japanese had briefly occupied Poyang Town, they had not ventured into the countryside. Gao, Gao Village, 5–7, 31.

34. For an overview of local agriculture see Poyang xian zhi, 561–64; for rural housing, see 746. Jiangxi counties shipped their surplus rice down the Yangtze to wealthier provinces in the Jiangnan region. See Philip Huang, The Peasant Family and Rural Development in the Yangzi Delta, 1350–1988 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1990), 123. For more on farming see Gao, Gao Village, 32, 59, 7–9.

35. Bamboo rods are used to construct the frames for the nets used by local fishermen. And bamboo is used to make two essential tools for rice farming: “the baskets used on shoulder poles to carry rice from the field, and a sort of mattress on which rice is dried.” For bamboo nets, see R. Cunningham, “When the Bamboo Flowers,” North-China Herald and Supreme Court and Consular Gazette, September 30, 1916, 691. For bamboo farming tools, see Gao, Gao Village, 227. For more on the county’s forests see Poyang xian zhi, 588. Unsaid in the county gazetteer is the deforestation that occurred during the second half of the twentieth century. Gao notes that demand for firewood during these years significantly reduced Poyang forests. Now that firewood is no longer required for cooking, however, Poyang trees are making a comeback. Gao, Gao Village Revisited, 71–72. Gao also explains the connections between forestry and filial piety: “the better and thicker the timber and the heavier the coffin, the more filial the offspring and hence more honored and respected the family is in the eyes of the villagers.” Gao, Gao Village, 230.

36. In Chinese: “Jiefangjun you qianjunwanma, wo you qian shan wan ling.” Jiangxi sheng gongan shi: 1949–1959 [Jiangxi Province public security history, 1949–1959] (Nanchang: Jiangxi sheng gongan ting, 1994), 240, 292.

37. For the flood, see “Rising Yangtze Threatens Greatest Flood Since ’31,” New York Times, July 11, 1949, 8; Poyang xian zhi, 139. The commander of the attack on Poyang Town, named Ye Fen, was said to be part of the Ninth Route Army, but he may have simply been an outlaw searching for guns. As a result of his attack on Poyang Town, county leaders were forced to move their offices. See Poyang xian zhi, 20.

38. Jiangxi sheng gongan shi, 4–5.

39. The ambush on the grain barges took place at Lake Chihu, northwest of Lake Poyang. Poyang xian zhi, 20.

40. It is unclear how many were locals, but 1,012 were new recruits. Jiangxi sheng gongan shi, 7.

41. Citing the lake’s ample commercial traffic and nearby mountain lairs, the Communists identified Lake Poyang as a high-priority target for bandit suppression. Jiangxi sheng gongan shi, 293.

42. The campaigns eliminated over 40,000 bandits, who possessed some 900,000 rifles and pistols, and another 2,000 machine guns. For an overview of these campaigns, see Jiangxi sheng gongan shi, 294–96.

43. The Second Field Army, led by Commander Liu Bocheng and political commissar Deng Xiaoping, met considerable resistance in the southwest. See Brown, 109.

44. For an overview of early party and government organizational schemes, see Poyang xian zhi, 491.

45. Ibid., 21.

46. Gao, Gao Village, 96.

47. Renmin ribao, May 8, 1950, 2, and June 11, 1950, 2.

48. For electricity see Poyang xian zhi, 736–39. Some Poyang villages had electricity by the late 1950s, but others had to wait until the 1980s. And even after the arrival of electricity there was “always a shortage of electricity.” Gao, Gao Village Revisited, 121. Movies were first projected at the theater in 1951. Movie projection teams were sent to the countryside starting in 1955. Poyang xian zhi, 921. For teahouses in Poyang see Poyang xian zhi, 759. For a detailed discussion of teahouses in the People’s Republic, see Di Wang, The Teahouse under Socialism: The Decline and Renewal of Public Life in Chengdu, 1959–2000 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2018).

49. Government employees also received very limited spending money as needed. Poyang xian zhi, 491–92; 507.

50. For more on the Judicial Administrative Section (sifa ke) see Poyang xian zhi, 445–46.

51. Approved on September 29, 1949, the Common Program (gongtong gangling) was the law of the land during the first years of the new regime. It was replaced by a formal constitution in 1954.

52. For more on the People’s Court (fayuan) and the People’s Tribunal (renmin fating) see Liu Shigu, “‘Shixu’ xia de ‘zhixu’: xin Zhongguo chengli chuqi tugai zhong de sifa Shijian—dui Poyang xian ‘bufa dizhu an’ de jiedu yu fenxi” [“Order” under “disorder”: Judicial practice during New China establishment initial period land reform—An interpretation and analysis of “illegal landlord cases” in Poyang County], Jinshidai yanjiu [Contemporary history research] 6 (2015): 93–96.

53. Li Kwok-sing, A Glossary of Political Terms of the People’s Republic of China, translated by Mary Lok (Hong Kong: The Chinese University of Hong Kong Press, 1995), 457.

54. Neibu cankao [Internal reference materials] (Beijing: Xinhua chubanshe, November 9, 1950), 31–33.

55. The new regime executed 710,000 citizens during this movement. Another 1,290,000 were locked up, and 1,230,000 were put under surveillance. Li Kwok-sing, Glossary of Political Terms, 567. For more on this campaign see Julia Strauss, “Paternalist Terror: The Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries and Regime Consolidation in the People’s Republic of China, 1950–1953,” Society for Comparative Study of Society and History 44, no. 1 (2002): 80–105.

56. For spies in Fujian see Neibu cankao (August 17, 1950), 49–50; for bandits in Hunan see Neibu cankao (October 19, 1950), 143–45; for secret cabals see Neibu cankao (December 6, 1950), 29; for bandits in Guilin see Neibu cankao (October 12, 1950), 91; for bandits in Guangxi see Neibu cankao (November 28, 1950), 143–45.