Chinese Village, Socialist State


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Edward Friedman, Paul G. Pickowicz, Mark Selden, and Kay Ann Johnson

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The detailed portrait of social change in the North China plain depicts how the world of the Chinese peasant evolved during an era of war and revolution and how it in turn shaped the revolutionary process. The authors spent a decade interviewing villagers and rural officials, exploring archives, and investigating villagers with diverse resources and cultural, traditions, and they vividly describe both the promise and the human tragedy of China’s rural revolution.


Exploring the decades before and after the establishment of the People’s Republic in 1949, they trace the growing economic desperation and cultural disintegration that led to the revolution, the reforms undertaken by the Communist leadership that initially brought economic gains and cultural healing, and the tensions that soon developed between party and peasantry. They show that the Communist antimarket and collectivist strategies which culminated in the imposed collectivization of 1955-56 and the disastrous Great Leap Forward of 1958-60, clashed with cherished peasant cultural norms and economic aspirations. Eventually the party’s attack on peasant values and interests, the authors find, produced a rupture that threatened both developmental and socialist goals and destroyed the democratic potential of the revolution at its best.

"This superb work provides the best village study of China from 1940 to 1960 that we are likely to have for some time. It is well-written, unified, and has the authentic texture of local experience. Taken as a whole, it amounts to an important revisionist reading of Chinese development that is provocative, critical, and, I think, more nearly accurate than anything else we have."—James C. Scott, Yale University

"A compelling picture of the nature of local change and the dynamics of state-society relationships during the revolutionary and socialist periods in China. The book puts this era into a more satisfying historical and social context; its focus on the village and its people brings the revolution to life; and it fruitfully draws interpretative conclusions that will not only add to our understanding but in a number of ways will help to reshape it."—Keith Schoppa

"The book makes a major contribution to our knowledge of the Communist Revolution in China, for it offers an alternative to the standard story of how the Communists became established in the villages before 1949 and an explanation for their failure to transform the rural economy."—Thomas P. Bernstein

"This is a path breaking book that will be discussed and debated for years to come."—Pat Howard, Pacific Affairs "This is a story that needs to be told, and it is told here with a poignancy that derives from the authors' attention to individual experiences."—Arif Dirlik, American Historical Review

"While no single rural microcosm can ever adequately capture the full spectral richness of a macrocosm as vast as China, Raoyang county, Hebei province, comes as close to being a valid synecdoche as one could wish for. . . . Describing in personalized detail how the people of raoyang county were sucked willy-nilly into the maelstrom of Mao's Great Leap Forward in 1958, the authors present a sociology of crisis that is rich in analytical insight and human pathos. . . . A poignant, personalized narrative history of the rise and decline of agrarian collectivism and communalism. . . . A gem of a book."—American Political Science Review

"A poignant, personalized narrative history of the rise and decline of agrarian collectivism and communalism. . . . A gem of a book."—Richard Baum, American Political Science Review

"The work is valuable in promoting our understanding of the early reforms of the Communist Party and the creation of a model village."—Isabelle Thireau, Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs

"One of the most important works on Chinese rural trends. . . . A rich and nuanced portrait. . . . Powerful evidence against those who contend that rural socialism was working well in China until 1957. . . . A valuable work even for those who have read all of the other available rural studies. . . . A complex and thoughtful study. . . . The rich material . . . will play a central role in continuing debates."—China Quarterly

"Chinese Village, Socialist State . . . will immediately be seen as one of the most important works on Chinese rural trends. . . . By sticking to their research with unusual determination and . . . peeling away multiple layers of local myth and propaganda, not to mention outright lies, [the authors] have presented us with a rich and nuanced portrait of village life."—Martin King Whyte, China Quarterly

"Crossing three academic disciplines, this book depicts the cultural, social, economic, and political changes of Raoyang county in central Hebei province. . . . Beginning in 1978, the authors spent ten years interviewing villagers and rural officials, examining village archives, and investigating villages with different resources and traditions. The end product is a work that aptly describes a full cycle of the pre-1949 economic desperation and social disintegration; the passion that united the Chinese Communist party and the peasantry; the party's promises and its attempted reforms of the 1950s that brought some economic gains and social healing amidst institutionalized revenges against the old elite."—Choice

"Makes important contributions to our understanding of the chinese revolution and the entrenchment of a new political order in the decades before and after 1949."—C. Montgomery Broaded, Contemporary Sociology

"What makes this version of an oft-told story so fascinating is its focus on one village. . . . We see how individuals and the village itself became involved in an elaborate game of snakes and ladders with the state as arbiter, rewarding the zealous, punishing the reluctant. . . . It is a compelling tale and one which should interest not just historians but anyone wanting to understand the rural mechanics of the People's Republic of China."—Theresa Munford, Far Eastern Economic Review


"A major study of the greatest importance for understanding a critical period in modern Chinese history. Academic and general readers will find its content accessible and the arguments compelling."—William Kent Hackmann, History: Review of New Books

"This book is in many ways a landmark event. . . . [The authors] searingly penetrate into much of the political life of the village and beyond. . . . Their account of state mismanagement and brutality has the specificity and depth that only an intimate knowledge can yield. . . . It may well come to [be] . . . the principal documentary of the revolution in English."—Prasenjit Duara, Journal of Asian Studies

"One of the best village studies on Chinese rural development that I have read. . . . This very well written and interesting book has, no doubt, made a significant contribution to our understanding of the success and failure of socialist policies in Chinese peasantry. It will prove to be indispensable for researchers who are interested in state-society issues, rural development, and socialist transformation."—Alvin Y. So, Journal of Developing Areas

"Portrays a rural society in Raoyang county in the North China plain, highlighting how families, villagers, and local leaders grappled with an emerging socialism that shaped life chances. . . . Explores the deeper continuities of culture in relation to rapid changes in other realms."—Journal of Economic Literature

"The best scholarship on post-1949 Chinese social institutions."—Andrew Nathan, Republican China

"This study is one of the most comprehensive I have seen on the chronological changes of a Chinese village. Mixing first hand interviews with second hand documentation, the authors successfully reconstruct the history of Wugong, a village in Hebei Province. . . . I recommend this book."—Tsz Man Kwong, Rural Sociology

"An impressive feat which will fundamentally affect the assessment of the Communist revolution in rural China. . . . [It] tells an important story uncommonly well."—Graham Johnson, Reviews in Anthropology

"Chinese village, Socialist State not only contains more telling detail and acute analysis than any other study I have seen of Chinese rural life; it gives a new understanding of the methods by which the Chinese Communists took control of the villages and deceived the world about what was actually happening in them."—Jonathan Mirsky, The New York Review of Books

"By far the best book on the impact of the Chinese Communist Party on peasant life."—Jonathan Mirsky, The Observer

"A substantial contribution to the demythification of the Mao era. The first on-the-spot investigation authorized by Beijing, it is based on a decade-long study of a model collective. . . . A thoroughly researched, well-organized and well-written study which corrects earlier credulity. It gives us an authentic account of rural change in the years of revolutionary striving and in the first dozen years of the People's Republic. It is an account of visionary aspirations sadly unrealized."—Hugh Deane, U.S.-China Review

Winner of the 1981 Jospeh Levenson Prize given by the Association for Asian Studies
ISBN: 9780300054286
Publication Date: January 27, 1993
360 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
Revolution, Resistance, and Reform in Village China

Edward Friedman, Paul G. Pickowicz, and Mark Selden

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