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Abstract

The article reviews the history of the word “involution,” the empirical basis of the concept of “agricultural involution,” and the mechanisms operating behind that phenomenon. It then considers the very different empirical bases and mechanisms of “bureaucratic involution.” State and peasant might interact in a positive way that leads to development – as when the state in the Reform era gave peasants the power and right to respond to market stimuli and develop the “labor and capital dual intensifying” “new agriculture” that has led to genuine development, demonstrating how small peasants have been the true primary subjects of Chinese agriculture and the true key to genuine agricultural development. By contrast, if bureaucratic involution should force on peasants policies that run counter to realities, it can lead to malignant “ultra-involution.” Similar consequences can be seen in spheres with scarce opportunities relative to the number of people seeking them, once they are placed under the forces of bureaucratic involution, as in the “examinations-above-all-else education system” as well as in similar (public and private) enterprise management. That is why the word “involution” has recently triggered such widespread resonance among so very many people. What is needed is state-party policies that truly accord with the interests of the people and draw their active participation. That kind of combination is what can check tendencies toward ultra-involution.

In: Rural China

Abstract

The patterns of labor use in land-intensive farming, represented by grain production, and in labor-intensive farming, represented by fruit production, are both undergoing quiet changes. The input of family labor and the number of hired laborers are decreasing in grain production, while in fruit production the decrease in family labor is accompanied by increases in the number of hired laborers and the proportion of hired labor in the overall labor input. These different trends of labor use are determined by various factors, including the difficulty of replacing labor with machinery, the reallocation of family labor, and the decline of labor exchanges among peasant families. The difficulty of labor supervision is not a critical obstacle to the use of hired laborers, because it can be relieved through various mechanisms, such as hiring laborers from acquaintance communities, working alongside the hired laborers, firing unqualified laborers, using the employer’s knowledge and experience to evaluate the efforts of hired laborers, and suitable practices of labor division. These changes in the patterns of labor use indicate that Chinese agriculture is undergoing a process of modernization, in which family labor is dominant and seasonal short-term labor is supplementary, and the new managerial units, like family farms and co-ops, are inclined to operate under appropriate farm-scales in an environment of market economy and commercialization but still with collective land ownership as their institutional basis.

In: Rural China

Abstract

Drawing on 1,965 cases of corruption by rural grassroots cadre from 1993 to 2017, this article examines the evolving patterns of and intrinsic reasons for corruption as well as its changing characteristics over time, by focusing on the following indicators: the number of newly increased corruption cases, the frequency of corruption activities, the average amount of cash value involved in the cases, the annual total cash value involved in the cases, and the sectors where corruption took place. This article ends with several recommendations on corruption prevention, including further measures on legislation, ideological education, supervising mechanisms, and investigation and punishment.

In: Rural China

Abstract

Centering on the terms of “deagrarianization” 去农化 and “depeasantization” 去小农化, this article aims to reinterpret socioeconomic changes in rural China from a theoretical and global perspective. Deagrarianization and depeasantization interwove to shape the dynamic process of rural transformation. Throughout the reform era, rural China underwent a transition from “deagrarianization without depeasantization” to “salient depeasantization.” In the end, deagrarianization led to a continual process of rural deterioration and at the same time turned rural China into a space of complexity. Depeasantization has been diversifying Chinese agriculture into multiple organizational forms. The mode of “part-time worker and part-time farmer” that emerged in the process of deagrarianization is gradually yielding to the specializing mode of “full-time farmer” or “full-time worker” during depeasantization. The strategy of rural revitalization should be adjusted dynamically on the basis of a recognition of these two interwoven processes.

In: Rural China

Abstract

At the most basic level of governance, China had long relied on a state-society interactive “third sphere” approach, leaving considerable space for societal self-governance, lightening thereby the oppressiveness of bureaucratic government. This article delineates once more the modes and operative mechanisms of that third-sphere mode of governance. After China entered its revolutionary and contemporary periods, that system was transformed by the rise of Communist Party organization into a new third sphere model with a close relationship between party leadership and popular participation. It turned out to be one that released immense energies, as evidenced in the revolutionary movement and the “people’s war” that ended in victories first over Japanese occupation, then in the civil war against the Guomindang, and further in fighting to a standstill the even stronger U.S. led forces in the Korean War. That party and people combination evinced great energies also in the early-stage cooperatives based on the natural villages (and the return back to that mode of organization by 1963 after the errors of the Great Leap Forward), and again in the Reform era when the party-state yielded individual decision-making powers in the newly marketized economy to peasant households through the “responsibility land system.” To be sure, there were also multiple errors of excessive bureaucratic control along the way. Nevertheless, even today, a mutually beneficial cooperative relationship between the party and the people can still be a good path for basic-level governance, one that could counter the excesses of “bureaucratism” and its “iron cage” effects, to enter into a kind of (popular) participatory socialist market economy, distinguished from a controlling bureaucratic socialist planned economy.

In: Rural China

Abstract

The development of the Chinese revolutionary movement in the early twentieth century absorbed cultural resources from traditional secret societies and associations. The White Lotus, the Tiandihui, the Gelaohui, the Triad, and the various secret societies that had emerged in the Taiping and the Boxer rebellions were all incorporated into the discourse system of revolutionary history. The secret societies’ slogans of “overthrow the Qing and restore the Ming” and “rob the rich to help the poor” merged with the revolutionaries’ platform of “drive out the Manchus” and “relief for people’s livelihood,” and finally advanced the success of the Xinhai Revolution and was turned into a coherent historical narrative. After the founding of the Republic of China, Sun Yat-sen and Song Jiaoren carefully assessed the function of secret societies and distinguished them from modern political parties. On the other hand, leaders of the Communist Party, such as Mao Zedong, Qu Qiubai, Yun Daiying, and Chen Duxiu, emphasized the ideological transformation of secret societies and the suitable role they could play in the revolution, thus showing a dynamic strategy of allying with these organizations. The history of the relationship between the Chinese revolution and secret societies reflects the changing characteristics and logic of the underclass of Chinese society.

In: Rural China

Abstract

The development of the Chinese revolutionary movement in the early twentieth century absorbed cultural resources from traditional secret societies and associations. The White Lotus, the Tiandihui, the Gelaohui, the Triad, and the various secret societies that had emerged in the Taiping and the Boxer rebellions were all incorporated into the discourse system of revolutionary history. The secret societies’ slogans of “overthrow the Qing and restore the Ming” and “rob the rich to help the poor” merged with the revolutionaries’ platform of “drive out the Manchus” and “relief for people’s livelihood,” and finally advanced the success of the Xinhai Revolution and was turned into a coherent historical narrative. After the founding of the Republic of China, Sun Yat-sen and Song Jiaoren carefully assessed the function of secret societies and distinguished them from modern political parties. On the other hand, leaders of the Communist Party, such as Mao Zedong, Qu Qiubai, Yun Daiying, and Chen Duxiu, emphasized the ideological transformation of secret societies and the suitable role they could play in the revolution, thus showing a dynamic strategy of allying with these organizations. The history of the relationship between the Chinese revolution and secret societies reflects the changing characteristics and logic of the underclass of Chinese society.

In: Rural China

Abstract

An analysis of the Class Background Registers of Yanshan county, Hebei, shows that households of landlord and rich peasant status accounted for less than 10 percent of the local population and possessed less than 15 percent of the land, while households of poor and lower-middle peasant standing owned about half of the land. Overall, land distribution was relatively balanced, as seen in the Gini coefficient of 0.3–0.4 in the distribution of land rights and the fact that about half of the households owned 2–5 mu of land per capita. But the economic condition of the rural population was not determined by the factor of land distribution alone; in places where the natural endowment was poor, off-farm income-making activities mattered a great deal to local residents. Such activities took various forms, which could improve as well as worsen people’s livelihood. An analysis of social mobility in this area further shows the perpetuation of the existing class structure. Those whose grandparents had lived in poverty found it difficult to move up socially. On the whole, the rural area under study shows a prolonged trend of deterioration, which is meaningful for understanding the land reform.

In: Rural China

Abstract

Litigation in rural China under the Qing involved “trivial matters” 细事 over marriage, land transactions, debt, theft, and so on. “Going to court” 打官司, as a regular means of resolving such disputes, functioned as a “safety valve” in maintaining social order, while the mishandling of civil disputes by local magistrates and prefects often had severe consequences. After 1860, Western missionaries became increasingly active in rural North China under the system of unequal treaties. Their arrogance and interference with lawsuits by providing local converts with judicial protection caused damage to the safety valve and disgruntlement among the victims of their abuses. It was the growing enmity toward the missionaries that led to rampant violence by the Boxers around 1900.

In: Rural China

Abstract

Grassroot communities are critical fields of governance. To enhance the development of local government and to mobilize, organize, and arm the people to fight against the Japanese invaders, the Communist Party employed a number of methods in the base areas during the Anti-Japanese war. Among them, holding meetings was an effective method to get the work done and to forge leadership in local governance in the base areas, and it built a space of power that incorporated and displayed both group and individual experiences. Though the endless rounds of meetings can be seen as a kind of formalism, they provide a pivotal angle to observe the operation of power in the Northwest Shanxi Anti-Japanese Base Area. For the Communist Party, whose purpose was to reshape the countryside, the implementation of policies was far more important than their formulation. The villages were the critical places where the Party interacted with the people, where most of the meetings occurred, and where most of the policy directives were implemented. Grassroot meetings in the base areas revealed directly the willingness of the people to participate as well as their on-site performance, and indirectly the response of the people toward the Party’s policies and how the Party dealt with that response. Making decisions, mobilizing and organizing the people, and implementing policies were the basic functions of meetings. The establishment of the institution of meetings and the twists and turns of its practice reflected the gaps between the Party’s ideal and practice, and between the Party and the people.

In: Rural China