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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The itinerant notary system was an important measure taken by the Nationalist government in Nanjing to enhance its control of grassroots society in rural China. There was no intent to challenge the central government’s wishes of “enlarging government revenues for the benefit of the state treasury” and safeguarding the integrity of the central government’s jurisdiction, which made smooth implementation of the itinerant notary system possible. It was against this background that the court of Linxia, Gansu province, expanded its reach to local business centers, selected superintendents of public notaries from among local gentry elites, and offered awards for notary services. The itinerant notary system thus combined a “modern” legal institution transplanted from the West with endogenous resources, and turned out to be an experiment conducive to overcoming the either/or binary of Western vs. Chinese, exploring a pluralistic and less disruptive path of institutional development.
The Civil Code has not yet articulated fully what the “separation of the three property rights” with respect to residential plot rights should mean. This is due to the inadequate development of the theoretical basis of the reform of residential property rights in the Civil Code. Future stipulation on residential plot rights in the Civil Code should aim to define both the eligibility requirements and rights, and the use rights for residential plots. Both of those are derivative of collective ownership rights. For use rights, the new definitions should apply: use rights with respect to residential plots should become transferrable and complete. The new eligibility rights should be clarified as a membership right, a major component of the rights of being a member of the collective. It should include the right of usage and the right to benefits therefrom, while excluding the rights to request distribution of or transfer of the land.
China’s “new agriculture,” characterized by a “capital-labor dual intensifying” pattern of production, is an effective way of linking small peasants with modern agriculture. Based on a field survey of several neighboring villages in Nijingzhen, Hebei, this article describes and compares each village’s level of agricultural development, and how the new agriculture differs within them. The analysis reveals that both soil texture and land layout affect the ability of villages to adopt new agricultural technologies that characterize the new agriculture. The current land layout is determined by the land division rules that are collectively made by villagers under village self-governance and deeply influenced by the effectiveness of rural governance. “Capable rural people,” family surname and clan structures, and the structure of peasant households, in addition to the choice to remain in the villages, interact with each other and affect the effectiveness of village governing authorities. In turn, the development of the new agriculture impacts the inflow and outflow of the rural labor force, and whether villagers remain in the village, which in turn affects rural governance and social stratification.
While the deprivation of rights is among the roots of poverty, an analysis of issues pertaining to rights alone is insufficient for a proper understanding of and solution to the complex problem of poverty. Combatting poverty is essentially an issue of governance. China has made enormous advances in poverty alleviation in the past seven decades, thanks to the formation, perfection, and development of a unique model that allowed the state to identify the particularities of the problem of poverty during different periods and implement suitable measures accurately and efficiently. China’s success in combatting poverty has relied on the state’s strategic promotion, the CCP’s mobilization and organization, and the policies of prioritizing villagers’ interests and paying equal attention to both poverty alleviation and economic growth.
This article examines a series of Nü zhuangyuan narratives in drama and tanci works of the Ming Qing period. They share similar story-patterns but contain different writing purposes. From a male perspective, Xu Wei composed his drama Nü Zhuangyuan Ci Huang De Feng as an entertainment practice and meanwhile conveyed frustration for his unrecognized talent and dissatisfaction with the imperial examination system. Afterwards, during the Qing dynasty it is the talented women rather than the male literati that continued to write the stories of Nü zhuangyuan, but this time from a female perspective to express their views on such gender issues as women’s identity, talent and virtue. Some female personas of Nü zhuangyuan desire to change their gender so as to pursue high official position, glory and honor which are available only to men. As a representative of this kind, Meng Lijun in the tanci Zaisheng Yuan even intends to cut off the relation with her natal family in order to maintain her superior status at court. However, female moralists criticized Meng’s behavior as a violation of the decorum, so they added a sequel to or even revised the Zaisheng Yuan to teach women how to properly deal with the interrelationship between talent and virtue. With the admonishing purpose, the vernacular genre of tanci is thereby embedded with the social function of teaching and preaching as the poetry always has, and its significance is simultaneously elevated. In the transitional era of late Qing when the enlightenment function of vernacular literature was highly emphasized, the story of Nü zhuangyuan no longer appears, but its influence and stereotype are still inherited by and can be observed in then-popular literature that portrays and appraises new women.