Revolution, Resistance, and Reform in Village China

Revolution, Resistance, and Reform in Village China

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Drawing on more than a quarter century of field and documentary research in rural North China, this book explores the contested relationship between village and state from the 1960s to the start of the twenty-first century. The authors provide a vivid portrait of how resilient villagers struggle to survive and prosper in the face of state power in two epochs of revolution and reform. Highlighting the importance of intra-rural resistance and rural-urban conflicts to Chinese politics and society in the Great Leap and Cultural Revolution, the authors go on to depict the dynamic changes that have transformed village China in the post-Mao era.  
 This book continues the dramatic story in the authors’ prizewinning Chinese Village, Socialist State.  Plumbing previously untapped sources, including interviews, archival materials, village records and unpublished memoirs, diaries and letters, the authors capture the struggles, pains and achievements of villagers across three generations of social upheaval. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300133233
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 10/01/2008
Series: Yale Agrarian Studies Series
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 10 MB

About the Author

EDWARD FRIEDMAN is professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. PAUL G. PICKOWICZ is professor of history and Chinese studies at the University of California, San Diego. MARK SELDEN is research associate, East Asia Program, at Cornell University and a coordinator of Japan Focus.

Read an Excerpt


By Edward Friedman Paul G. Pickowicz Mark Selden

Yale University Press

Copyright © 2005 Yale University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-10896-5

Chapter One


This book explores an epoch of clashes between forces of rural revolution and reform from China's Great Leap Forward at the end of the 1950s through the Cultural Revolution to the new millennium. Our study centers on Wugong, a North China plain village 120 miles south of Beijing in Raoyang county, Hebei province. We locate that village in a matrix of power relations and resource conflicts spanning county, province, region, and center, examining contrasting and intertwined experiences of communities that enjoyed none of Wugong's benefits as a state-endowed model village.

Together with our earlier volume, Chinese Village, Socialist State, this study reveals the centrality of model villages in Chinese rural development of the Mao era. Models were vanguards in a strategy of political theater and resource allocation that emphasized political mobilization and self-reliance. Their roles would change, but not disappear, in a subsequent era of market-oriented reform. Revolution, Resistance, and Reform in Village China also offers new perspectives on hierarchy, power, welfare, and structures of inequality in successive epochs of revolution and reformin China's countryside. Together, the two books introduce three generations of villagers, their experiences, their hopes, their fears, and their engagements with state, collective, and community.

In contrast to numerous anthropologically inflected studies that present village communities as isolated microcosms, we pay close attention to the political, military, and cultural networks that shaped the lives of villagers and are shaped in turn by the values and actions of villagers. This book shows, too, the ways in which successive political campaigns, such as the four cleanups, the Cultural Revolution, the four goods, the campaign to criticize Lin Biao and Confucius, and campaigns to learn from Dazhai reverberated through village China. We explore not only the profound consequences for local people of political campaigns but also the ways in which locals sometimes appropriated campaigns and used them for their own purposes.

In the late Mao era, while little noted by international observers, signs of rural social discontent were legion. They pervaded the mocking rhythms of shunkouliu (slippery jingles that circulated throughout the countryside by word of mouth) in which the rural poor, the powerless, protestors, and pariahs offered pungent opinions on the privileges of the powerful. During the Great Leap famine of the early 1960s, villagers raged at a corrupt system that forced people to pander to power to survive: "Flatter shamelessly-eat delicacies and drink hot stuff. Don't flatter-starve to death for sure." At critical moments, intra- and intervillage clashes erupted, sometimes spilling over into violence. Violence peaked throughout the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. Armed factional struggle, with militia tied to military units, soared when the leadership fragmented, particularly in the years 1966-70. These struggles constituted critical forms of resistance to the party center or to regional or local authorities.

Most often, however, resistance took indirect, at times even invisible forms. Villagers long remembered the throng from Gaoqiao village, north of Wugong, that marched to the township headquarters in 1959 as famine loomed, demanding grain. One hungry villager, Zhou Minchao, carried a lit lantern to help leaders see the pain of the people. Zhou was jailed as a new class enemy and a foe of socialism. In poorer villages, young men tried, often at great risk, to beat the command economy by turning to the household and the market to find some way to earn money. Villagers maneuvered to protect themselves as policy torrents cascaded down, promoted by officials whose careers hinged on campaign achievements that frequently flouted local preferences, cultural values, and consumption needs. Official pronouncements articulating a revolutionary fundamentalism could carry deadly consequences. Many villagers quietly subverted the revolution's war against locally meaningful ways of marrying, celebrating the New Year, and mourning. Others joined illegal religious sects rooted in Buddhist or heterodox millennial traditions.

The Wugong resident who most eloquently articulated the plight of villagers was Geng Xiufeng. A lifelong enthusiast of socialism, he returned to his home village in the early 1960s. Once known as the Collectomaniac, in the course of four decades he recorded a litany of criticisms of the failure of the Communist Party to deliver on the central promise of assuring mutual prosperity. Xiufeng criticized and opposed, at times openly, practices that sacrificed villagers to the interests of brutal and corrupt officials.

In 1943 Xiufeng had initiated a four-family coop that caught the attention of local wartime resistance leader Lin Tie, who eventually became Hebei's provincial first party secretary and Wugong's patron. The successful coop allowed higher officials to present the village as showing the way to socialism. Coop leader Geng Changsuo, Xiufeng's kinsman, won national fame for turning the original four-family coop into a villagewide unit in the early 1950s. That story is told in Chinese Village, Socialist State, which chronicled Wugong's rise as a market-oriented coop in the 1940s and as a mechanized collective in the mid-1950s, ending with the Great Leap from 1958 to 1960. Revolution, Resistance, and Reform in Village China continues the story from the Leap famine in the period 1960-61 through the traumatic upheavals of the Cultural Revolution to post-Mao reforms that both enriched the countryside and gave rise to jarring inequalities.

Wugong was not simply a better-off village in Raoyang county, situated in the chronic grain deficit province of Hebei that surrounded the great cities of Beijing and Tianjin. Because Geng Changsuo's village was promoted by Hebei party secretary Lin Tie, a member of the political network of Beijing mayor and Politburo member Peng Zhen, the careers of county, prefectural, and provincial officials were intertwined with the fortunes of Geng Changsuo, Lin Tie, Peng Zhen, and ultimately President Liu Shaoqi. The ability of local leaders to maneuver was sorely tested by the vicissitudes of Chinese politics. The book details how the fate of peripheral villagers, both those in model villages and in less favored communities, was intertwined with that of higher party, military, and state leaders.

Wugong's early promoter, Lin Tie, had not been alone in backing the village. As Wugong gained prominence, groups tied to such revolutionary fundamentalists at the state center as theorist Chen Boda, who had praised Wugong as early as 1951 and again in the 1955 collectivization drive, also sought leverage by linking up with the village. Indeed, every major leader with a stake in the North China countryside bid for Wugong's favor and sought to shape Wugong in his preferred image. These included Liu Zihou, who would succeed Lin Tie as Hebei first party secretary, Li Xuefeng, who headed the North China Bureau, and Chen Yonggui, China's leading model peasant, who would eventually rise to become vice premier. Each group highlighted qualities that made the village a model from that group's perspective. Wugong reshaped the village's historical narrative with each lurch in the party line and the requirements of successive patrons. To retain model status required agility in adapting to the priorities of momentarily victorious power holders at local, regional, and national levels while maintaining a support base in the village.

Most villages lacked Wugong's pipeline to state resources. When anti-market collectivism and state strictures that prevented labor migration trapped villagers in stagnant misery in the aftermath of the Leap famine, many poorer villagers, at times with the support of local officials, turned to market, mobility, money, and maneuver to survive. This book details repeated clashes, covert and overt, between villagers and the ruling party over successive revolutionary and reformist policies. It examines lineage and religion, which persisted in the face of revolutionary campaigns that branded them as feudal. It highlights the wide-ranging and sometimes violent role of the military, legitimated by popular patriotism, reaching across the countryside and penetrating the villages through the militia. It traces repeated efforts by disgruntled villagers to improve their livelihood by breaking through state controls on household production and the market. Indeed, we show the consequences of pressures from below for market-oriented reform in the early 1960s and early 1970s, long before Mao's death and the triumph of a reform agenda at the center.

In the reform era, patriotism would persist, while lineage and religion would move out of the shadows to assume powerful visible manifestations in local communities and reshape grassroots politics. With the rise of Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s, a reform agenda directly challenged the collective system that had restricted market activity and locked villagers within local communities. New forms of social and economic organization then spurred economic growth and a more relaxed political climate. But reform also gave rise to new kinds of social inequality and official corruption that among some produced nostalgia for bygone days.

This book draws on field research involving more than 30 research visits to Wugong village and Raoyang county dating back to 1978. These visits made it possible to re-interview informants and family members on numerous occasions in the wake of changing policies and outcomes, and armed with information derived from print and interview sources. To chart evolving village-state relationships, we have made use of a wide array of print sources and informants tapped both throughout China and abroad. Examples include access to six volumes on Wugong village published in China over the years since 1963, the complete run of the Hebei Daily since 1949, and sporadic access to the Hengshui Daily, the prefectural newspaper. The various unpublished, handwritten memoirs and protest letters compiled by Geng Xiufeng provided a gold mine of vivid, critical, no-holds-barred writing, assessing village history and party policies from the original four-household coop of 1943, by an observer who was resident in Wugong for nearly four decades until his death in 1999. Interviews with former political prisoners who served time in Raoyang county, in the Hebei capital, Shijiazhuang, and in Beijing provided another bird's-eye view of local life. So too did interviews with intellectuals, artists, historians, writers, work team leaders, and university faculty who were sent to Wugong for periods of weeks or months to several years. Following our practice in Chinese Village, Socialist State, information obtained from interviewees and confidential sources are not cited in the notes.

Dynamics of revolution, resistance, and reform were played out with regional variations throughout village China over the long twentieth century that is the subject of our two volumes. Bringing villagers in their rich specificity into the pages of history and attending both to their agency in the historical process and state attempts to curb their autonomy, we try to put a human face on conflicts that punctuated rural life. In the reform era, as earlier, villagers offer alternative, value-based understandings of China's future. Now, as earlier, the success of villager initiatives rests in part on finding support in the ranks of sympathetic officials and intellectuals. Comprehending the complex human agency of villagers in a centralized authoritarian China is a major goal of this study.

Chapter Two


The calamities of the Leap initiated in 1958 spread alienation. But the desperation of villagers rarely caused officials to question whether the party dictatorship could achieve revolutionary goals. Party leaders had lost touch with policies that had won the allegiance of patriots and the poor during the 1937-45 resistance war against Japan. In contrast to Jacobins and Bolsheviks, who attacked the market, thereby harming villagers, from the late 1930s to the early 1950s China's communists achieved a nearly silent revolution by combining limited redistributive policies with freeing the market and permitting money lending, land rentals, and the employment of hired labor. Economically rational policies, resting on a mixed economy incorporating family farms and small-scale mutual aid, reduced poverty and inequality and expanded the number of owner-cultivator households.

The institutions and policies that were imported from Stalin's Soviet Union and then intensified in the Great Leap to promote revolution had, by contrast, plunged the nation into famine. Committed to a communism defined by the negation of the bourgeoisie and the extirpation of money, property, and markets, the late Mao came to view the successes of the 1937-52 period as courting the danger of normalizing bourgeois evil. Nevertheless, as Lenin turned in the 1920s to the New Economic Policy to end the famine caused by war-communism policies, so, in the wake of the Leap famine, Mao expediently accepted reform to get through the crisis.


At the nadir of famine, central and provincial governments were paralyzed. In 1960, with mortality soaring, the state actually exported 41 times more grain than it imported. To make matters worse, in early 1960 Mao pushed for a renewed Great Leap, thereby intensifying the disaster.

Administrative chaos hampered recovery. In December 1958, the Hebei provincial government had dissolved Raoyang county as an administrative entity. Its four gigantic units of nearly 50 villages each, dubbed communes (Red Star, Red Flag, Red Light, and Iron and Steel), were grafted onto an enlarged Xianxian county to the east. Wugong, which had long cultivated contacts in Raoyang town, had to deal with an unfamiliar Xianxian, a Roman Catholic stronghold. Then, in April 1960, three of the former Raoyang communes, including Wugong's, were reassigned to an expanded Shenxian county to the south. One year later, in April 1961, the four communes were reallocated to Anping county to the west. Village leaders hardly knew where to turn to defend local interests.

County-level disarray was exacerbated by reorganization of the prefecture, the next highest rung of state power. In March 1958 Raoyang was shifted from Shijiazhuang prefecture to the west to Cangxian prefecture to the east. Three months later it was placed under Tianjin prefecture to the northeast. In December 1958 Raoyang came under the control of a greatly expanded Tianjin municipality. Between April 1960 and April 1961 Raoyang was administered once again by Shijiazhuang prefecture. In short, from 1958 to 1961 Raoyang was administered by five dierent prefectures.

Not every administrative change resulted from revolutionary giantism. Hebei party chief Lin Tie's lobbying got the Hebei provincial capital moved to Tianjin in 1958. Baoding was unsuitable as a capital, Lin found, because it lacked industry. Baoding promoted an agrarian socialism in which industrialization was not a prerequisite for socialism. By contrast, Lin wanted metropolitan Tianjin's industry and its educational and cultural resources to help modernize the countryside. In 1956, after the Eighth Party Congress put modernization high on the political agenda, Lin asked Premier Zhou Enlai to approve moving the Hebei capital to Tianjin. Zhou arranged for Lin to put the idea to Mao Zedong. During meetings in Hangzhou and Shanghai, Lin chased after Mao, finally securing his assent. In 1958 the Hebei capital moved to Tianjin in line with Premier Zhou's and Lin Tie's modernization policies, which were immediately undermined by the revolutionary Leap.


Excerpted from REVOLUTION, RESISTANCE, AND REFORM IN VILLAGE CHINA by Edward Friedman Paul G. Pickowicz Mark Selden Copyright © 2005 by Yale University. Excerpted by permission.
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