Mass line
Traditional Chinese群眾路線
Simplified Chinese群众路线

The mass line is the political, organizational and leadership method developed by Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) during the Chinese Communist Revolution. It refers to formulating policy based on theory, implementing it based on people's real world conditions, revising theory and policy based on actual practice, and using that revised theory as the guide to future practice. In Maoist terms, it is summarized by the phrase, "To the masses - from the masses - to the masses".

Mao developed it into a organizing methodology that encompasses philosophy, strategy, tactics, leadership and organizational theory that has been applied by many communists subsequent to the Chinese Communist Revolution. CCP leaders generally attribute their conquest of power to the faithful pursuit of effective "mass line" tactics, and a "correct" mass line is supposed to be the essential prerequisite for the full consolidation of power.[1]


In its original conception, the mass line referred to both an ideological goal as well as a working method based on "pooling the wisdom of the masses" (simplified Chinese: 集中群众智慧; traditional Chinese: 集中群眾智慧; pinyin: jízhōng qúnzhòng zhìhuì) from which CCP leadership could formulate policy after further deliberation, adjustments, implementation and experimentation, which would in turn continue to receive feedback from the masses.[2] First, an initial policy is formulated based on historical analysis and theory.[3] As it is implemented, the policy and underlying theory are revised consistent with the actual real world conditions.[3] This revised theory then becomes the guide to future correct action.[3] Thus, the mass line is a method in which theory is refined by practice.[3]

In Maoist politics, the mass line is summarized in the phrase, "To the masses- from the masses - to the masses".[3] The mass line is characterized by the CCP listening to the scattered ideas of the people, turning them into systemic ideas, and returning them to the people as a guide for action.[4] The process of "pooling the wisdom of the masses" through soliciting and aggregating views and adjusting and testing decisions repeats in an "endless spiral".[4]

The mass line is based on pragmatic considerations as well as both present and historical Chinese beliefs about the importance of wise rulers reading signs of popular discontent in order to avoid social calamity.[4] According to academic Lin Chun, Mao's conception of the mass line reflected his faith in the people as well as a theory of "history from below."[4]

After recognizing that large numbers of cadres properly trained in mass line tactics were critically needed for the CCP's building of a "complete socialist order", the CCP intensified its cadre training program in 1950–1951 to ensure that all cadres and other workers would be "carefully indoctrinated in basic Marxist-Leninist mass line theory and practice".[1]

From 1955 to 1959, the mass line was a heightened focus as China sought to complete the collectivization of agriculture and the socialist transformation of the economy more broadly.[5]: 113 

Training in mass line tactics ranges in scope from propaganda to public administration, according to UCLA professor Arthur Steiner. Its principal focus, however, is in the "delicate area" of the CCP's dealings with the masses of Chinese people who have not yet bought into the communist program.[1] In the early 1950s, the problem was sufficiently serious and urgent that CCP leadership temporarily deferred several important social reforms pending the completion of the cadre training program.[1]

Steiner writes that Mao rose to pre-eminence in the CCP because he understood the requirements for effecting the strongest possible organization of the Chinese masses in unstable political circumstances.[1] Since the days of his early activity among the peasantry of Hunan Province, Mao preached that the CCP must rely on the masses for its strength, that it must serve their needs, "draw inspiration" from them, and orient its political ideology and organizational tactics to their responsiveness.[1]

Mao criticized Joseph Stalin for a lack of faith in the peasantry and the masses of people, being mechanical in his understanding of the development of socialism, and not actively engaging the masses in the struggle for socialism. Regarding Stalin, Mao wrote in 1961: "'Politics in command' and the 'mass line' are not stressed. There is no discussion of 'walking on two legs', and individual material interest is onesidedly emphasized. Material incentives are proclaimed and individualism is far too prominent."[6] The Mass Line is a method of leadership that seeks ostensibly to "learn from the peasants".[6]

The principle of the mass line is reflected in the Party slogan "serve the people".[5]: 43 

21st century revival

One of the distinctive features of the national leadership of Chinese Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping has been the revival of the mass line in CCP theory and praxis.[7][8] As of 2014, this revival is still ongoing, and is "not a short-term movement" according to the People's Daily.[9] A new official website[of what?] has been launched, focusing on the mass line.[10]

In his own words, Xi has described the campaign in terms of "purification" of the CCP, often involving the elimination of "hedonism and extravagance",[11] although the purification implied is sometimes extended metaphorically to issues such as "reducing air pollution".[7]

As part of this campaign, Xi Jinping has declared that "All Party organs and members should be frugal and make determined efforts to oppose ostentation and reject hedonism",[12] although the interpretation of what this means seems to have varied from one province to the next somewhat. Hebei province reportedly reduced public spending on official receptions by 24%, cancelled the order of 17,000 new cars, and punished 2,750 government officials.[7] The Economist reported two specific examples of punishments under the new mass line: the suspended death sentence for corruption given to Liu Zhijun and charging the 17-year-old-son of a high-ranking military officer for an alleged connection to a gang rape.[13] Perhaps 20,000 party officials were punished within the first year of the revival campaign.[14]

Some China experts argue that: "If implemented not as a propaganda tool but as a mechanism of interest articulation and aggregation, the mass line has the potential to offer China alternative routes of democratization."[15]

Connection with propaganda

Further information: Propaganda in China

According to Steiner, the mass line is closely related to the CCP's propaganda apparatus.[1] Despite the vast output from the CCP's propaganda apparatus, in January 1951 the Central Committee published a directive condemning as a "principal weakness of the Party's propaganda" a failure to effectively give "systematic guidance and control of various levels of party organizations".[1]

The directive said that "One of the inborn duties of a Communist lies in the incessant effort to carry out propaganda among the people so as to educate them, to wage relentless war against all reactionary and mistaken conceptions and principles, and to promote as well as raise the political consciousness of the masses."[1]

The directive called for the establishment of networks of "propaganda officers"—one in every party cell—and "reporting officers" at higher levels. Propaganda activity was to be conducted among the masses under strict control and in "fixed activity programs".[1] Among other duties, propaganda officers were to maintain "constant public contact" so they could "assist the Party in the choice of propaganda matter and methods appropriate for different periods of time".[1]

Earlier directives connected the need to boost consciousness of the mass line with criticisms and self-criticisms in the press. CCP members were supposed to "be trained to appreciate that criticism and self-criticism in newspapers and periodicals are necessary methods for strengthening the relations between the Party and the popular masses".[1]

Mass organizations

See also: People's organization

During the Maoist era the state supported a range of mass organizations, coordinated by the CCP through its united front system. The most significant of the mass organizations encompassed large numbers of people from major social groups, including workers through trade unions, students, youth, and women. Their purpose was to "penetrate society, to bring vast sections of the population further into the party's net," Frederick Teiwes writes.[16] The effort was skewed, however, and coverage was far more extensive in urban areas, with peasant associations existing only sporadically.

Influence outside the Chinese Communist Party

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The largest self-proclaimed Maoist party in the US, the Revolutionary Communist Party, which proclaims itself adopted the concept of "mass line" during the 1970s.[17]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Steiner, H. Arthur (June 1951). "Current "Mass Line" Tactics in Communist China". American Political Science Review. 45 (2): 422–436. doi:10.2307/1951469. ISSN 0003-0554. JSTOR 1951469. S2CID 145666761.
  2. ^ Lin, Chun (2019). "Mass Line". In Sorace, Christian; Franceschini, Ivan; Loubere, Nicholas (eds.). Afterlives of Chinese Communism: Political Concepts from Mao to Xi. Canberra: ANU Press. p. 122. ISBN 9781788734769. JSTOR j.ctvk3gng9.23. OCLC 1107512484.
  3. ^ a b c d e Karl, Rebecca E. (2010). Mao Zedong and China in the twentieth-century world : a concise history. Durham [NC]: Duke University Press. pp. 58–59. ISBN 978-0-8223-4780-4. OCLC 503828045.
  4. ^ a b c d Lin, Chun (2006). The transformation of Chinese socialism. Durham [N.C.]: Duke University Press. pp. 142, 144, 147. ISBN 978-0-8223-3785-0. OCLC 63178961.
  5. ^ a b Marquis, Christopher; Qiao, Kunyuan (2022). Mao and Markets: The Communist Roots of Chinese Enterprise. New Haven: Yale University Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctv3006z6k. ISBN 978-0-300-26883-6. JSTOR j.ctv3006z6k. OCLC 1348572572. S2CID 253067190.
  6. ^ a b Mao, Zedong (1977). A Critique of Soviet Economics. Monthly Review Press. ISBN 978-0-85345-412-0.
  7. ^ a b c "Xi demands implementation of 'mass line' campaign". People's Daily. 10 December 2013.
  8. ^ ""China's "Mass Line" Campaign"". The Diplomat. 9 September 2013.
  9. ^ "CPC's "mass line" campaign not a short-term movement - People's Daily Online". People's Daily. Archived from the original on 26 August 2013. Retrieved 9 August 2022.
  10. ^ Dickson, Bruce J. (2016). The Dictator's Dilemma: The Chinese Communist Party's Strategy for Survival. Oxford University Press. p. 150. ISBN 9780190228576. Retrieved 23 June 2018.
  11. ^ "People's Daily editorial stresses stronger ties with masses - People's Daily Online". People's Daily. Archived from the original on 18 August 2013. Retrieved 14 January 2022.
  12. ^ "Xinhua Insight: Secretive government receptions defy China's central authority". Xinhua. Archived from the original on 28 January 2013. Retrieved 14 January 2022.
  13. ^ "Masses of meetings". The Economist. 13 July 2013. ISSN 0013-0613. Retrieved 2022-11-12.
  14. ^ Tiezzi, Shannon (December 27, 2013). "The Mass Line Campaign in the 21st Century". The Diplomat. Retrieved 26 May 2020. Xinhua says that almost 20,000 Party officials have been punished this year ...
  15. ^ A., Korolev (14 July 2017). "De-ideologized Mass Line, Regime Responsiveness, and State-Society Relations". China Review. 17 (2): 7–36.
  16. ^ Teiwes, Frederick C. (2000). "The Chinese State During the Maoist Era". In Shambaugh, David (ed.). The Modern Chinese State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 105–160. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511528194. ISBN 9780521776035.
  17. ^ Elbaum, Max (2018-04-10). Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao and Che. Verso Books. ISBN 978-1-78663-458-0. OCLC 1031091411.