Students take a field trip to the farm in China

Welcome readers to todays offering from The Philatelist. So slip on smoking jacket, fill your pipe, take your first sip of your adult beverage, and sit back in your most comfortable chair. We have an interesting story to tell of agricultural reform that just isn’t going too well.

The stamp today is from mainland China. It was made during a brief period of reform between the great leap forward of the late 1950s and the cultural revolution of the late 1960s The stamp is really quite exquisite. The colors are dramatic and poetically it makes what would seem to be a good point. How China can raise food production so that the recent famine would be the last. By mobilizing.

The stamp is issue A191, an 8f stamp issued by the Peoples Republic of China on September 26th, 1964. The stamp shows students on a study break during their agricultural service. The stamp is part of a 4 stamp issue that celebrates youth helping in agriculture. According to the Scott catalog, the stamp is worth $1.00 used. The cancellation seems done to order and the catalog mentions that cancelations from postal use reduce the value in half. This is the opposite of what I would expect. The value though is really as a window to what was occurring then. As such, the more mint the better.

While I am not sure how much  actual work in the fields was being accomplished. It does seem a useful thing to send students into the field. One thing China possesses is numbers, and the leader Mao believed much could be accomplished via massed mobilizations to solve problems.

The collectivization of agriculture had not gone well. Collectives had been formed at the expense of family farms. The state became the buyer of the collective’s product, but at a low price. The state would then pass on the product to the cities at a much higher price. The money that was thus raised was to be used to fund the building of factories in the cities. The Soviet leader Khrushchev had projected that the USSR’s industrial and agricultural output would exceed the USA in 15 years and Mao was inspired to make a similar projection of surpassing the UK in 15 years. To do this required quick industrialization. Agricultural workers were even encouraged to work backyard smelters at night to boost output. This only ended up making cheap pig iron that had little economic value.

The work demands on the countryside became ever harder to fulfill with less and less food staying in rural areas. An early 60s famine was the result and sending government workers and students to help in the collectives was something that could be done to show a government response. At the same time Mao was allowed to go into the background somewhat as new leaders set to work on reforming the economy. Mao would not be sidelined for long. He used the cultural revolution that started in 1966 to push aside and discredit the reformers. He began promoting himself as godlike and encouraged the youth to blame the problems on the elders. Teachers and parents became the target of the Cultural Revolution. Mao himself by this point was himself far from youthful and when he passed away some of the reformers that were still alive were allowed to come back into power. This included Deng Xiaoping, who had fallen from power and spent much of the Cultural Revolution working in a tractor plant as a line worker.

A note to fellow stamp collectors. If you get a chance check out the widely high values that attach to many Chinese stamps of this time. China must feel the same forces of changing ways to send messages as everywhere else. They must have realized however what great windows into time and place the old stamps are. The interest has obviously wildly boosted values. This could happen for other countries stamps as well. Even if there are not new issues. This type of interest is what I am trying to generate by bouncing around the world through different periods and finding stories to tell.

Well it is time to open up the discussion in the below comment section. China in the 60s went through a time of scoffing at experts and the priviledged  because in their belief in mass action. It seems the west is headed for that as well. Come again tomorrow for another story that can be learned from stamp collecting.