Keating’s book gives a structural dimension to the Chinese Communist rural cooperative movements in Northern Shaanxi from 1934 to 1945. The main argument of the book is that the “obstacles to cooperation were essentially structural; they derived from ecological and demographic factors that, in turn, determined not just farming patterns, but [End Page 369] levels of social differentiation and political alignments” (253). The book’s most important contribution is its stress on the pragmatic and flexible sides of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) during the resistance war in the 1940s. In Yanshu, where land was plenty and the party was weak, the state and the peasants shared the same goals, which led to the growth of democratic centralism, while in Suide, where the land was scarce and the party was strong, the party used more authoritarian methods to bring about change.
Most investigations of rural revolutions have centered on debates between the moral economy (Scott) and the rational peasantry (Popkin). !IR”1” Keating tries to go beyond that controversy by linking the structural variables (population and land resources) to the cultural variables (the restoration of social rituals and habits). By combining both the structural and cultural dimensions, Keating illuminates five important issues of China’s rural revolution, all dealing with the relationship between the party and peasants: (1) the relative roles of the peasants and the party in the late 1930s and early 1940s; (2) the function of village cooperatives in rural development and revolution; (3) “democracy” in rural China; (4) state-village relations; and (5) the impact of revolution and modernization on “peasant consciousness.”
For Keating, the CCP rural cooperative movement was revolutionary, rather than backward-looking as others have argued. Both peasants and the party played an important role in the consolidation of the rural cooperative movement. When the party adopted a more flexible approach to cooperative policies, peasants most often followed the party policies willingly. “There was no resistance to innovative forms of cooperative farming among small farm proprietors” (253).
Most previous studies have emphasized the importance of ideology and nationalism as the basis of the Communists’ success. Keating’s study shows that the structural variables can explain the different strategies of the CCP at different times and locations.
The only shortcoming of the book is the lack of discussion about the co-existence and competition of the two rival states in Shaanxi district. While the Guo Min Dang (GMD) government was still in power, many of the Communist party’s policies were competing against the dominant GMD power. Thus, many early Communist polices aimed to undermine the power of the GMD state rather than to build the new “state.” This political reality seems to explain more of the flexibility in party policies than other structural variables (population and land ratio). Given the weakness of the Communist power base, it is not difficult to understand why Mao Zedong and his associates used more practical, flexible, and appealing policies. In fact, a Chinese expression described Mao’s flexible policies as santou (three heads): When they (communists) [End Page 370] were weak, they kowtow (bow with their heads touching the ground, showing great respect) to the people; when they became strong, they nodded their heads to the people; when their power became secure, they cut off people’s heads. The most important influence on the party’s flexibility was not the socioeconomic structure of rural areas but the political position of the CCP. Mao and the party waited until the late 1950s when they enjoyed the broad support of people all over China before they adopted a rigid and unified rural policy (which led to the Greap Leap Famine). During the 1940s, when the Communist Party occupied a small and poor area, it had to be more flexible. There is no structural puzzle here to solve.
1. Samuel Popkin, The Rational Peasant: The Political Economy of Rural Society in Vietnam (Berkeley, 1979; James Scott, Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms...