Commerce and Socialist Construction
Soviet revolutionaries regarded private merchants and traders as “unproductive” and largely eliminated them. This wasn’t feasible in the new PRC. China had no state capacities or personnel to replace 2+ million commercial actors, so instead undertook to harness their wholesale and retail skills through first encouraging, then pressuring them to join private–public partnerships and sales cooperatives. Even then, the state had few facilities to supervise these operations or school their owner-managers in the rudiments of socialism. Yet such merchants proved critical to managing markets and contracts bringing rural foods and handicrafts to cities and delivering industrial goods to farming districts. Enthusiasts for the Great Leap forbade the operation of rural market fairs, some of whose histories stretched back centuries, but once the Leap faded, the fairs roared back into prominence, with state commercial and economic publications recounting best practices and pitfalls to be avoided. Wholesalers developed market relations outside official channels and “unlicensed” traders multiplied to the extent that fears of “spontaneous capitalism” mounted among Maoist cadre, revealing fracture points about commercial activity that would crack wide open in the next decade’s Cultural Revolution.