Re: rural reconstruction

From "Sunzi Hu" <>
Date Mon, 09 Jan 2006 22:25:37 +0000
In-reply-to <007e01c61527$a53bb7e0$6401a8c0@DB134221>

>Whether the purpose is to build economic coops and rural social and 
>political institutions, or provide health care and education, and 
>provisions for the elderly and disabled, how can one avoid looking at the 
>lessons of the commune system?

Oh, yes, this is another important question that I forgot to mention. My 
impression is that intellectuals and activists of various stripes (liberal, 
Maoist, Christian, Gandhian...) have embraced and elaborated these 
discourses of "xiangjian" and "sannong" (the three agrarian questions of 
rural people, economy and village), and to some extent "alternative 
development", because this is what's "hot", and that's what people are 
allowed to talk about and actively pursue. I met one volunteer at the Hebei 
school, for instance, who criticized both Wen and the early 20th century 
models of rural reform, and who advocated some variant of the commune 
system, but he said that he took part in xiangjian work because he felt that 
was all he could do at this point, and that it was a step in the right 
direction. I wonder how common this sort of attitude is in the "movement", 
and how often it gets voiced in xiangjian forums such as China Reform or 
Sannong Zhongguo (as opposed to, say, Maoist forums such as Zhuren Gong). On 
the other hand, another volunteer was quite frank - when I asked him - about 
his rejection of the Maoist commune model, and saw the early 20th century as 
well as Kerala, etc. models as preferable in various ways (more democratic, 
etc.; it seems like he said that Wen had explicitly criticized the Maoist 
commune model somewhere - unfortunately I didn't write this down in my notes 
- has anyone seen anything like this?)

My general sense is that many xiangjian advocates have more or less coherent 
ideas about the Mao-era communes, but that for political reasons they are 
hesitant to discuss them online or in print, particularly in forums 
affiliated with xiangjian institutions, or at formal lectures at places like 
the Hebei school. This is unfortunate because, as Joel points out, the 
commune system means a lot more (whatever it means) to China's rural masses 
than what is happening in Kerala, or what happened in a few scattered 
villages during the 1920s. And besides, it is clear that some reformers see 
their work as promoting an alternative model to both today's system and the 
Mao-era commune system, so it needs to be open for study and discussion 
exactly what that system was and how this model is supposed to supersede it, 
rather than working with unexamined assumptions.


>From: Joel Andreas <>
>To: Sunzi Hu <>
>Subject: Re: rural reconstruction
>Date: Mon, 09 Jan 2006 09:18:46 -0500
>This is not my area of expertise, but one in which I am interested. I can't 
>give you much help on sources, but your query inspired this thought: Many 
>people (including many of the advocates) look for inspiration and lessons 
>for current efforts at village reconstruction in antecedents from the 1920s 
>and 30s. In so doing, they skip over the biggest village reconstruction 
>effort of all time - the communist commune system. The communist project 
>had many elements in common with those of Liang Shumin, James Yen, and Tao 
>Xingzhi, and, of course, many elements that were different. But it does not 
>make sense to seek guidance from the lessons of projects implemented on a 
>tiny scale for a short time many decades ago, and ignore (or, at least, 
>fail to systematically analyze) the lessons - both positive and negative - 
>of a project that had many more years of history, was implemented on an 
>incomparably larger scale, and more recently. Moreover, the commune system 
>established the structural foundations of the existing order and the 
>cultural framework from which the rural population views all current 
>projects of rural reconstruction. Whether the purpose is to build economic 
>coops and rural social and political institutions, or provide health care 
>and education, and provisions for the elderly and disabled, how can one 
>avoid looking at the lessons of the commune system?
>Take care,
>----- Original Message ----- From: "Sunzi Hu" <>
>To: <>
>Sent: Monday, January 09, 2006 1:39 AM
>Subject: rural reconstruction
>>A while back this list briefly discussed the "rural reconstruction" 
>>(&#20065;&#26449;&#24314;&#35774; or simply "xiangjian") work promoted by 
>>insititutions such as the James Yen school in Hebei, and by figures such 
>>as Wen Tiejun. That thread touched briefly on how the most prominent 
>>participants in this self-described "movement" tend to understand their 
>>work, in particular the role of cooperatives (usually buying and selling 
>>coops, sometimes cooperative enterprises) in relation to regional, 
>>national and global political economies. Alex, for instance, pointed out 
>>that the general assumption tends to be that xiangjian projects such as 
>>pilot coops should help some of China's more marginalized villagers 
>>establish a more competitive position in the market, and that some critics 
>>have argued that coops mainly improve peasants' position relative to other 
>>peasants (rather than to "middle men"), so that the projects' ultimate 
>>benefits for China's overall rural population would be negligible.
>>I would like to reopen this discussion, and I would also like to ask if 
>>anyone can recommend any English or Chinese materials on "xiangjian" in 
>>general. I'm only now getting around to wading through (with my bad 
>>Chinese) the Chinese literature available on the web, and a few materials 
>>I picked up this summer. I haven't seen anything at all written in English 
>>on the topic - does anyone know of anything? As for the Chinese, can 
>>anyone recommend any good introductions to the following topics:
>>1) the various meanings of key notions such as "xiangjian" and 
>>"alternative devopment" (linglei fazhan) (they seem to mean very different 
>>things to different people and in different contexts)
>>2) what are some of the various long-term visions associated with Chinese 
>>xiangjian work, and how do they address criticisms like the one mentioned 
>>above, and bigger political economic questions in general?
>>3) how do various xiangjian advocates (Wen Tiejun representing one, but 
>>not the only trend) relate the "New Rural Reconstruction Movement" to its 
>>early 20th century predecessor and its various advocates (James Yen, Liang 
>>Shuming, Tao Xingzhi - themselves representing somewhat differing trends), 
>>and to other "alternative development" models (most notably the Indian 
>>KSSP model)?
>>For instance, at the founding of the People's University Center for Rural 
>>Reconstruction this summer, several of the foreign guests tried to relate 
>>Chinese peasants' situation to that of people in Kerala, Chiapas, and 
>>elsewhere, but Wen concluded the conference by basically disowning this 
>>relation and insisting that, because Chinese peasants' situation is so 
>>different (that most Chinese peasants have secure access to enough land to 
>>take care of basic subsistence, etc.), it was still unclear to him exactly 
>>what the Chinese xiangjian movement could glean from alternative 
>>development movements in other countries. At the time I suspected that he 
>>was just saying that for political reasons - otherwise why would he have 
>>invited these guests in the first place? - but later several lower-profile 
>>activists said in personal conversation that this was really Wen's 
>>position (some agreed and some disagreed with his assessment).
>>Thanks for your help!
>>Matthew Allen Hale
>>Anthropology Department
>>University of Washington
>>Seattle, WA 98195