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The Suppression of Secret Societies in Post-Liberation Tientsin

  • Kenneth Lieberthal

On 15 January 1949 Tientsin fell to Chinese communist forces. As the first of the major treaty ports captured by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and with a population of over 1·8 million, it presented its new rulers with a vast array of complex problems, considerably greater than any they had previously encountered. One of the most important of these was the question of how to deal with the various socio-economic groups which dominated Tientsin society at the time of Liberation. Tientsin is a particularly useful case study in this respect, for not only was it the first major metropolis where strategies had to be devised to cope with this problem, but also the solutions worked out in Tientsin frequently served as models for other areas. Within Tientsin, perhaps the most powerful type of social organization was the secret society. This article begins with a brief survey of the general social situation, to put the secret societies into their proper context; it then details the Chinese Communist Party's strategy for handling Tientsin's secret societies and the problems which it encountered.

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1. Chin-pu jih-pao (Progressive Daily) (hereafter Chin-pu), 13 March 1949, pp. 1 and 4.

2. An Li-fu, , Tien-chin pan-yiin kung-jen kung-tso pao-kao (Tientsin Transport Workers' Work Report) (Workers' Publishing Company, 03 1950), pp. 12.

3. On the I kuan-tao, see Grootaers, William A., “Une sociéité secréte moderne: ‘I kuan-tao’Folklore Studies, Vol. V (1946), pp. 331–41; Delioussine, Lev, “La société Yiguandao et sa supression par les autorités de Chine populaire,” in Chesneauz, Jean, Davis, Feiling, and Ho, Nguyen Nguyet (eds.), Mouvements Populaires et Sociétés Secrétes en Chine aux XIXe et XXe Siécles (Paris: Maspero, 1970); Chin-pu, 15 December 1949, p. 2, and 28 December 1951; Tien-chin jih-pao (Tientsin Daily) (hereafter Tien-chin), 4 May 1951,19 May 1951 and 6 July 1951.

4. Chin-pu, 20 June 1950, p. 2, and 24 June 1950, p. 2.

5. This hypothetical person's career closely parallels the path which Pa Yench'ing followed to power: Chin-pu, 24 June 1950, p. 2. Y. C. Wang's article on Tu Yueh-sheng provides a very vivid account of the nature of the relationship between this Shanghai Ch'ing-pang leader and the KMT. See Wang, Y. C., ”Tu Yueh-sheng (1888–1951): A Tentative Political Biography,” Journal of Asian Studies, XXVI: 3 (05 1967), pp. 433–56.

6. I conducted interviews with over 50 former residents of Tientsin to gather data for a larger project, of which the present article is one part.

7. Two Chinese terms are usually translated as “transport.” The first, pan-yün, includes the following: work on the docks, moving goods, pulling rickshaws, driving pedicabs, loading and unloading trains, carrying water, and carrying night-soil. The latter, yün-shu, is a far more restrictive term meaning to move freight. Thus, all people engaged in yün-shu are also engaged in pan-yün, but not vice versa. For the sake of clarity, I consistently translate pan-yün as “transport” and yün-shuas “freight.”

There is no accurate way to gauge the size of the pang-hui membership in Tientsin. As a rough approximation, the membership figure is unlikely to have been under about 30,000, as Tientsin had almost 65,000 people in transport, of which about 28,000 worked on the docks and in freight haulage. An Li-fu, p. 11; All China Federation of Trade Unions (ed.), Pan-yün kung-jen kung-hui kung-tso ts'an-k'ao tzu-liao (Reference Materials on the Transport Worker's Trade Union Work) (hereafter Reference Materials) (Workers' Publishing Company, 01 1950), pp. 52, 59, and 65. Despite its generalized title, all but 12 of the Reference Materials' 170 pages consist of monthly investigations, work reports and other reference materials on the communists' organizational efforts among the transport workers in Tientsin, up to mid-December 1949. As such, it provides a unique and valuable record of the CCP'S approach to dealing with the secret societies in the transport industry.

8. The number of coolie associations is given in Reference Materials, p. 52, and in Jen-min jih-pao (People's Daily) (hereafter Jen-miri), 25 March 1950, p. 2.

9. See, for instance, the investigation of the San Miao (Three Temples) coolie association in “T'ien-chin shih erh ch'ü chiao-hang tiao-ch'a” (“Investigation of the coolie associations in Tientsin's number 2 ward”), Reference Materials, pp. 4–7.

10. An Li-fu, p. 4.

11. A chart on the ownership of vehicles and draft animals in the coolie associations in Tientsin's, number 2 ward is presented in “Investigation of the coolie associations in Tientsin's number 2 ward,” Reference Materials, pp. 1012.

12. It should be noted that one coolie association not infrequently had more than one boss. Where this was the case, there was typically a hierarchy of bosses, with one person clearly recognized as being in overall command. The number of bosses per coolie association in Tientsin varied from 45 at a maximum (for an association encompassing 275 workers) to one at a minimum (for an association of six workers). For an explanation of the hierarchy of coolie bosses, see An Li-fu,p. 3. Regarding membership in the Ch'ing-pang, see “Investigation of the coolie associations in Tientsin's number 2 ward,” Reference Materials, pp. 6 and 16; Jen-min, 11 May 1950, p. 2; Chin-pu. 20 June 1950, p. 2 and 24 June 1950, p. 2.

13. Reference Materials, p. 6.

14. Investigation of a random sample in 1949 showed that only about 20 per cent of the freight workers, 34 per cent, of the dock workers, and 15 per cent of the railroad cargo workers had lived in the countryside before beginning work in the transport industry in Tientsin, : “Tien-chin shih pan-yün kung-jen nien-sui, kung-sui, ch'eng-fen, chia-t'ing, wen-hua ch'eng-tu ti tiao-ch'a t'ung-chi” (“Statistics of investigations of the age, tenure, background, families, and cultural level of the Tientsin transport workers”), Reference Materials, p. 44.

15. An Li-fu, p. 4 gives a graphic description of the nature of these “rumbles.” On exploitation of the workers by the coolie bosses, see ibid. p. 5. Reference Materials, pp. 13–15 presents a chart depicting the division of income within the coolie associations in Tientsin's number 1 ward both before Liberation and as of March 1949.

16. Reference Materials, p. 4.

17. Feiling Davis, “Le rôle économique et social des sociétés secrètes,” in Chesneaux et al. (eds.), Mouvements populaires.

18. “T'ien-chin shih pan-yün kung-jen ti erh ch'i hsün-lien pan pao-kao” (“Report on the second training class of the Tientsin transport workers”), Reference Materials, p. 103 notes that although most of the transport workers are married, they in fact have very poor relations with their families. Olga Lang's investigation of the Chinese families during the 1930s also suggested that extended families were rare among the lower social strata: Lang, Olga, Chinese Family and Society (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1946), pp. 136–7 and 350. (“Report on the second class of the Tientsin transport workers”), Reference Materials, p. 103 notes that although most of the transport workers are married, they in fact have very poor relations with their families. Olga Lang's investigation of the Chinese families during the 1930s also suggested that extended families were rare among the lower social strata: Lang, Olga, Chinese Family and Society (New Haven: Yale Press, 1946), pp. 136–7 and 350.

19. Indeed, the basic tenets of the Ch'ing-pang demanded that a higher “generation” member treat those in the lower “generation” as a “mother and father” would act towards their offspring. Concomitantly, “filial piety” was demanded in turn from the lower “generation”. See Chung-kuo pang-hui shih (History of the Chinese Secret Societies) (Hong Kong: Hsien-tai ch'u-pan kung-szu, 1970), p. 198. The social repercussions of this situation for the secret society members are discussed in Feiling Davis, p. 55.

20. For interesting parallels, see the article on youth gangs in the South Bronx published in the New York Times, 16 January 1973, pp. 1 and 28.

21. For the 15 January 1949 and 23 February 1949 decrees calling for registration of former members of the KMT and of the San-ch-ing-t'uan, see Secretarial Office of the Military Control Commission (ed.), Cheng-ts'e fa-ling hui-pien (Collection of policies, laws, and decrees [in Tientsin]) (no publication information available), pp. 34 and 15–20. The latter decree is reprinted in Liu Shao-ch'i et al.xs, Hsin min-chu-chu-i ch'eng-shih cheng-ts'e (New Democratic City policy) (Hong Kong: Hsin min-chu-chu-i ch'u-pan she, 1949), pp. 56–62. For the figures on people who registered during 1949, see Chin-pu, 6 September 1949, p. 2, 7 September 1949, p. 2 and 17 January 1950, p. 2; for the 1950 results, see T'ien-chin, 28 February 1951.

22. Reference Materials, p. 16.

23. There was in fact very little contact between members of different coolie associations. Therefore, winning over people in a few associations would not suffice for learning about the leadership of the remaining ones. Reference Materials, p. 94; and An Li-fu, p. 20.

24. For the background to this decision see Lieberthal, Kenneth, “Mao versus Liu? Policy towards Industry and Commerce, 1946–9,” CQ 47 (0708 1971), pp. 494520. Also Liu Shao-ch'i wen-t'i tsai-liao chuan-chi (A Special Collection of Materials on Liu Shao-ch'i) (Taipei: Institute for the Study of Chinese Communist Problems, 1970), p. 200. Statistics indicating the degree of break-down in Tientsin's, economy just prior to Liberation are presented in Chieh-fang hou ti T'ien-chin kung-yeh (Post-Liberation Tientsin Industry) (11 1949), p. 14.

25. Interview with former cadre in the Public Security forces.

26. An article dealing with trade associations (t' ung-yeh kung-hui) in Tientsin well expressed the CCP's assumptions in this respect: “If there were no organizations then everyone would simply be dispersed like sand—[even] if there were a strong will, there would be no way to unify and concentrate it and to enable it to become a type of activity, and thus it would not manifest its strength.” Quoted from Li Chu-ch'en, “Kung-shang-yeh che tui mu-ch'ien t'ung-yeh kung-hui kaihsüan kung-tso ying-yu ti jen-shih” (“The awareness which the industrialists and merchants should have with regard to the current re-election work in the trade associations”), Tien-chin kung-shang (Tientsin Industry and Commerce), Vol. 1, No. 6 (15 03 1951), p. 1. Liu Shao-ch'i made a very similar statement with regard to the need to organize workers into trade unions, Special Collection of Materials on Liu Shao-ch'i, p. 206.

27. An Li-fu, p. 6.

28. Jen-min, 11 May 1950, p. 2.

29. Jen-min, 25 March 1950, p. 2; and “Tien-chin shih pan-yün kung-hüi liu ytieh fen kung-tso tsung-ho pao-kao” (“Summary report of the work for June in the Tientsin Transport Trade Union”), Reference Materials, p. 57.

30. Reports on the cadres conference and on the Workers' Representative Conference are contained respectively in An Li-fu, p. 7 and Reference Materials, pp. 48–51. There was no work in building up a Transport Trade Union in March–May 1949 comparable to the efforts being made to establish the “service stations.” Indeed, until early May, there was no unified union policy in the city of Tientsin as a whole. Rather, the activities which did take place were radically decentralized, with the basic level Trade Union cadres and their counterparts in the street governments (chieh-tao cheng-fu) holding virtually all effective power. This arrangement proved to be dangerously unmanageable, especially since the lower-level Trade Union cadres were generally more Leftist that the CCP's overall policy warranted. In April–May 1949, the Party Centre dispatched Liu Shao-ch'i to Tientsin to straighten out these and other major problems in the city. Liu advocated the formation of centralized municipal trade unions, formed along profession and guild lines (hang-yeh, chih-yeh and ch'an-yeh) and co-ordinated at the municipal level by a municipal federation of trade unions (shih tsung-kung-hui). See Special Collection of Materials on Liu Shao-ch'i, pp. 200–17. Liu's suggestion set in motion planning for the establishment of the Transport Workers' Trade Union. Separate unions were established for dock workers, freight haulers, railroad cargo handlers, pedicab and rickshaw coolies, and for water and nightsoil carriers. These diverse unions were then federated at the municipal level into the Transport Workers' Trade Union, which in turn comprised one of the units belonging to the Municipal Federation of Trade Unions. Most relevant policy planning seems to have taken place at the level of the Transport Workers' Trade Union, although there were major differences in the problems which confronted some of its subordinate Trade Union components.

31. The tactic of dividing the leadership from the mass membership and sowing dissension within the leadership was common to the CCP approach to disbanding all counter-revolutionary organizations in Tientsin. See, for instance, Chin-pu, 7 September 1949, p. 2.

32. An Li-fu, p. 7.

33. “T'ien-chin shih pan-yü kung-hui ch'i yüeh fen kung-tso pao-kao” (“Summary report of the July work in the Tientsin Transport Trade Union”), Reference Materials, p. 59.

34. An Li-fu, p. 8.

35. Ibid. pp. 9–10.

36. On the system of “lots” see An Li-fu, p. 3.

37. On the coolie bosses' tactics, see ibid. p. 9; Jen-min, 11 May 1950, p. 2; and Reference Materials, pp. 54–5.

38. The membership figures for the Transport Workers' Trade Union and for its subordinate unions are available in the July, August, September, and November “Summary reports on Trade Union work” in Reference Mattrials, pp. 59, 65, 86 and 105.

39. “August Report,” Reference Materials, p. 66.

40. Ibid. p. 6.

41. Ibid. p. 66.

42. Information on these two training classes is taken from the detailed reports on each session published in Reference Materials, pp. 93–104.

43. This campaign is discussed in detail in “T'ien-chin shih pan-yün kung-hui shih-i yüeh fen kung-tso tsung-ho pao-kao” (“Summary report of the work during November in the Tientsin Transport Trade Union”), Reference Materials, pp. 105–110.

44. The “crew” (tui) was the term for the basic work unit in the transport industry.

45. The following analysis of this campaign is from Jen-min, 11 May 1950, p. 2 and from a case study of the campaign in Tientsin's number 5 ward in “T'ien-chin shih pan-yün kung-hui ti san pan-shih-ch'u pien-tui kung-tso tsung-chieh che-lu” (“Summary extracts of the reorganization of crews' work in the number three office of the Tientsin Transport Trade Union”), Reference Materials, pp. 72–85.

46. A chart of rates of literacy of Tientsin transport workers is presented in Reference Materials, p. 45. According to this chart, 64 per cent, of the freight haulers and 86 per cent. of the dock workers were totally illiterate, and an additional 19 per cent. of the freight haulers and 9 per cent. of the dock workers could recognize, literally, only a few characters.

47. Taken from the August and September “Summary reports” in Reference Materials, pp. 67 and 86, and from An Li-fu, p. 18.

48. These co-operatives included cafeterias, small sanatoria, coal ball factories, soap-making factories, food markets, and schools for siblings and offspring. In addition, the Trade Union arranged for its members to have reduced prices for haircuts, baths, the cinema, and plays.

49. An Li-fu, p. 15.

50. The editor's preface to Reference Materials states that the problems in the transport industry were handled well in Tientsin and thus that the present volume had been compiled to serve as a model for other areas: Reference Materials, p. 2. The People's Daily twice published approving articles on the methods of handling transport work in Tientsin: Jen-min, 25 March 1950, p. 2, and 11 May 1950, p. 2. And finally, the Central Government Administrative Council on 24 and 31 March 1950 passed respectively the “Temporary method for getting rid of the feudal control system in the transport business in various localities” and the “Decision on establishing freight companies and getting rid of the feudal control system in the transport business in various localities,” both of which advocated a strategy very similar to that which was followed in Tientsin. For the texts of both decrees, see Hsin-Hua yüeh-pao (New China Monthly), 2: 5 (15 05 1950), pp. 65–6.

51. A lively description of abuses of the “three list” system is available in Chin-pu, 20 June 1950, p. 2.

52. Information on these arrests is contained in Chin-pu, 20 June 1950, p. 2, and 24 June 1950, p. 2.

53. Ibid., 24 June 1950, p. 2, and 25 June 1950, p. 2.

54. The registration decrees for the KMT and the San-ch'ing-t'uan were mentioned in note 21 above. For similar decrees aimed at the leadership of the I kuan-tao, the quasi-religious sect with over 200,000 adherents among the Tientsin population, see Chin-pu, 15 December 1949, and T'ien-chin, 7 April 1951, p. 1. The communists did not take decisive action against I kuan-tao, until the Suppression of Counter-Revolutionaries Campaign in the spring of 1951. They suppressed the I kuan-tao at this time because, they claimed, its clergy were engaging in treasonable activities in retaliation for the Korean war. In point of fact, however, it seems clear that it would, in any event, have been only a matter of time before the CCP sought to break the hold that this conservative organization exercised over more than 20 per cent. of Tientsin's adult population. For a detailed analysis of the I kuan-tao in Tientsin and its suppression, see Lieberthal, Kenneth, “Reconstruction and revolution in a Chinese city: the case of Tientsin, 1949–1953” (Dissertation for the Department of Political Science: Columbia University, 1972), pp. 143–77.

55. Chin-pu, 22 June 1950, p. 2.

56. Ibid., 7 July 1950, p. 2, carries the full text of this broadcast.

57. Tientsin's, mayor Huang Ching revealed in his first major municipal government work report that over 8,000 of the KMT's former 11,800 police were kept on by the communists: Chin-pu, 6 09 1949, p. 2.

58. Concrete examples illustrating almost every one of the above-mentioned phenomena are given in ibid. 24 June 1950, p. 2 and 7 July 1950, p. 2.

59. The few subsequent articles on the transport system assumed that the secret societies had been effectively suppressed without any indication as to how this had been accomplished. See, for instance, ibid. 25 May 1951, p. 2. Subsequent general reviews of the situation in the transport industry in various other cities in China likewise cast little light on this subject. See, for example, Chung-kuo kung-jen (China's Workers), No. 8 (09 1950), pp. 66–7; and No. 10 (November 1950), pp. 14–18.

60. Chin-pu, 31 March 1951 and Tien-chin, 13 July 1951.

61. Interview data strongly support this assertion.

62. For somewhat analogous political problems resulting from the necessity to recruit cadres locally, see the experience of the Tientsin construction industry, which was dominated by “foremen” (pa-t'ou): T'ien-chin, 24 March 1952, p. 2, and 26 March 1952, p. 1.

63. This was, for instance, the case with the Tientsin trade associations. See Chin-pu, 17 December 1952, p. 3, for a summary report.

64. The whole question of the vulnerability of any secret-society-type organization to a revolutionary mass movement constitutes a fascinating sidelight which unfortunately cannot be explored in this article. The growth and functioning of the Italian Mafia exhibits so many parallels to that of the urban secret societies in twentieth-century China that analyses of the vulnerability of the former may well be fruitful for studying the latter. On the relevant aspects of the Mafia, see: Hobsbawm, Eric J., Primitive Rebels (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1959), pp.3056and Dolci, Danilo, “A dam for Sicily's peasants,” New York Times, 25 09 1971, p. 31. Good histories of the pang hui for this type of comparative analysis are the chapters by Feiling Davis and Tadao Sakai in Jean Chesneaux et al. (eds.), Mouvements Populaires.

65. For a review of job placement efforts since Liberation see, for instance, Chinpu, 30 September 1952, p. 1.

For an overall review of labour insurance in post-1949 China, see Kallgren, Joyce, “Social welfare and China's industrial workers,” in Barnett, A. Doak (ed.), Chinese Communist Politics in Action (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1969), pp. 540–73. And see also Tien-chin, 12 January 1950, p. 1, and Chin-pu, 27 August 1950, p. 2.

On finance, see, for instance, Pen-hui chin-jung wei-yuan-hui kung-tso tsungchieh” (A Summary of the work of the Finance Committee (referring to the Tientsin Federation of Industry and Commerce), Tientsin Industry and Commerce, Vol. 1, No. 12 (15 06 1951), pp. 1416.

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