“Strangers from a Different Shore”

Examining Archival Representations and Descriptions of the Chinese in America

Jeannie Chen (陈宇晶)


This exploratory research examines archival representations of Chinese in America in collections dating from before and during the Chinese Exclusion Era (1860–1943), both in mainstream institutional archives/special collections repositories and in smaller community-based archives. Using critical race theory as a methodological framework and an interpretivist case study approach, this research shows a continued lack for transparency surrounding archival description and archival representations within such collections and an uneven distribution of resources across institutions that collect and preserve materials on early Chinese in America. The report identifies the difficulties of balancing evolving terminologies and changing archival descriptive standards/technology and the need for collaboration among bibliographers, catalogers, archivists, historians and activists in creating archival descriptions in collections about the Chinese in America.

Louise Edwards


This article explores recent public debates in Australia about Chinese living overseas and the recent actions by members of the Chinese community in seeking official apologies for historic and current injustices. It explores the ways in which these calls to rectify both current and past injustices draw Chinese overseas into current PRC agendas by embedding their experiences into narratives of China’s humiliation and victimhood — key tenets of the China Dream to rejuvenate the nation in the twenty-first century. This article argues that by drawing Chinese Overseas into biologized notions of ethnicity and into an ethno-nationalist identity of victimhood, the PRC may cause harm to Chinese living in multicultural Australia.

Jiayan Zhang

According to class struggle theory, rural China before 1949 featured two contrasting classes, the exploiting class and the exploited class. Some current research tends to—from the perspectives of market relations and moral economics—focus on the harmonious aspect of the rural society of that time. Based on different surveys and their associated discourses on tenancy and employment relationships in the Jianghan Plain in the late Qing, the Republic of China, and the 1950s, this article argues that different discourses emphasized different aspects of rural society. The surveys of the late Qing and some surveys of the Republic are closer to reality, while the CCP surveys of the 1950s and the gazetteers compiled in the 1950s, influenced by political propaganda and policy, are heavily loaded with ideological biases and exaggerate the landlord-tenant conflict. This kind of influence has gradually weakened since the 1980s, and the gazetteers compiled afterward are closer to reality. Those new studies that deny exploitation and evil landlords are overcorrecting. The Jianghan experience of tenancy and employment relationships demonstrates that in the early twentieth century, exploitation among classes, market competition, and moral economics all existed at the same time. Because the Jianghan Plain was prone to frequent water calamities, we also need to add the specific influence of the environmental factor to our understanding of tenancy and employment relationships in this region.

Lian Yu and Mingbao Yuan

It is widely assumed among economists that farmland transaction, as a means of optimizing the reallocation of resources, contributes to farmers’ income. Unfortunately, farmers received little protection in farmland transaction and the restructuring of resources. Investors, bureaucrats, and social elites were all involved in the reallocation of agricultural resources and competed for the newly available resources injected from the top down, thus becoming new types of entrepreneurial rural elites that controlled farmland-related interests. As farmland, a basic form of social security for decades, was gradually transformed into a transactable commodity, the principles of equity and subsistence intrinsic to the original equal distribution of farmland also yielded to the realities of seizure by force and possession by capital, hence leading to the restructuring of social relations embedded in the farmland. Rural elites of various backgrounds (profiteering investors, rent-seeking bureaucrats, or market manipulators) all sought to seize the resources newly allocated by the state, hence the new phenomena of “the scramble for farmland by the elites” and “profit-sharing” among them.

Xuefang Pan

Based on the “Preliminary Records of Land Reform in Wanglinyang” created during the Land Reform, this article reconstructs land ownership and utilization in Wanglinyang village of Huangyan county, Zhejiang, prior to the reform and analyzes class relations, especially landlords and rich peasants, in the village in order to explicate the formation of precapitalist landlordism. It has long been assumed that “landlords and rich peasants, accounting for less than ten percent of the rural population, possessed seventy to eighty percent of the arable land.” It was on the basis of this estimate of land ownership in rural China that the Land Reform was conducted. Wanglinyang village, however, saw no high-level concentration of the land and the attendant polarity in social differentiation; nor was there a class struggle between landlords and peasants. Nevertheless, because of restructuring by the Land Reform, this village appeared to become a rural community with all the features associated with precapitalist landlordism.

Jianlei Zhang

Based on field investigation in County B of Shanxi Province, this paper explores the relationship between technology and organization by examining the complex interactions between the government (technology supplier) and the differentiated agricultural managers (technology recipients) and the subsequent transformation of the agricultural economy. Past studies have argued that government intervention can significantly improve economic management, and the government-led, highly organized model of agricultural technology promotion can effectively solve the problem of social cost in technology application by rural households. However, when technology promotion driven by political mobilization is over, the application of new technologies by rural households encounters difficulties because of the growing capitalization of technological factors on the one hand and the households’ limited capital accumulation and consumption structure on the other. The government, for its own part, also redirects its technological services to the more capitalized, large-scale managements, which are considered to be able to accelerate the application of new technologies and the realization of the government’s economic objectives. Nevertheless, the importance of rural households should never be ignored in the government’s economic planning. It is possible that, with the support of the government, large-scale agricultural managements can integrate rural households into their growth model that combines production with marketing by outsourcing technological service. This will bring about profound changes in the local agricultural technology promotion system and accelerate the transformation of the agricultural management system.

Weiqiang Ma, Hongqin Deng and Lichao Yang

William Hinton’s widely influential Fanshen is notable for its nuanced description of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) consolidation and land reform in Long Bow village (Hinton’s pseudonym for Zhangzhuang 张庄). But how representative was Long Bow? What was the situation in other villages? Did Hinton accurately describe what really happened in the party consolidation and land reform? Or did he miss important points? Scholars have either considered the situation in Long Bow as representative of the general situation of party consolidation and land reform in northern China or else have left these questions open, and thus have failed to distinguish between pilot programs of party consolidation and the overall consolidation of the party. Based on documents from the Communist Party Committee of Lucheng county and pilot villages including Long Bow, this article seeks to clarify the sequence of events surrounding party consolidation and land reform in Long Bow and its role in the pilot program of land reform and party consolidation in Lucheng county by setting Long Bow in the context of the larger administrative region of which it was part and reviewing the historical process of the land reform and party consolidation pilot program. In this way, this article reveals the historical significance of land reform and party consolidation for rural political change and democratic development.

Philip C. C. Huang

This article is based on the introduction-summary of the author’s new book awaiting publication. It deals mainly with the realities of China’s “informal economy” (understood as laboring people with little or no legal protection), to be distinguished from misleading and obfuscating “mainstream” theory’s construction and discourse about them. The working people of the “informal economy” today come mainly from the “half cultivator half worker” peasant families, and with them, make up a distinctive social formation that is very different from the expectations of both neoclassical economics and Marxist political economy. It cannot be understood in terms of the conventional categories of “mainstream” theory and needs new conceptualization and theory to grasp. The “informal economy’s” latest manifestation is the rapid spread of “dispatch workers,” who need also to be understood in terms of new theoretical concepts.