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  • Rural China: Economic and Social Change in the Late Twentieth Century
  • Mobo C. F. Gao (bio)
Jie Fan, Thomas Heberer, and Wolfgang Taubmann. Rural China: Economic and Social Change in the Late Twentieth Century. Armonk, New York, and London: M. E. Sharpe, 2006. xv, 352 pp. Hardcover $124.95, ISBN 0-7656-0818-9.

The book is a result of collaborative research between scholars and research institutions in China and Europe. This is significant in two ways. First, the research project and the publication of its result may provide some kind of direction and framework for future collaborative research. Despite much freedom and accessibility made possible by the Chinese authorities, research on China conducted inside China is still full of difficulties and obstacles, and there is a good discussion of these issues in the first few pages of chapter 3. For this reason alone, the book is valuable in the field. Second, the field of modern and contemporary Chinese studies, especially in social sciences, seems to have been dominated by scholars of Anglo-Saxon background. Some research outcomes in Europe have to be translated in English to reach a larger audience. This, however, is a book written, together with a Chinese scholar, by European scholars in English.

The study was carried out as an interdisciplinary research by Jie Fan, professor of geography at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing; Thomas Heberer, professor of political science at the University of Duisburg-Essen; and Wolfgang Taubmann, professor of geography at Bremen University. The German Volkswagen Foundation and the National Foundation of Natural Sciences of China supported the research.

The book aims to explain contemporary China from the bottom up, instead of the usual explanation of policy change and implementation from above-the much trodden track of "Kremlinology," according to the authors. The three authors want to demonstrate how and what the profound social and economic changes have taken place at zhen level. Zhen is an administrative unit in China that is between a city and a town. A zhen may or may not be a town, but a zhen may administrate more than one town. "Seven case studies in 1993-1994 and six case studies in 2000-2001 were selected to examine the role of zhen in the process of economic and social change in regions at different stage of development" (p. 21). The European researchers designed the project rationale and methodology, including fieldwork of interviews and questionnaires, and with the help of Chinese colleagues carried out the research in 1993-1994. The main parts of the fieldwork were repeated by Jie Fan in 2000-2001.

After the introduction, the second chapter discusses the definition, structure, and development of zhen. The third chapter is mainly about methodology. The fourth chapter focuses on demographic change at zhen level. Chapter 5, a substantial [End Page 409] nearly 100 pages, talks about economic and social change (I think this chapter is too long). Chapter 6 touches the subject of finance at zhen level, and chapter 7 discusses administrative change. Chapter 8 focuses on social stratification and is followed by a chapter on value change. The final chapter is a summary evaluation.

The authors attempt to show that economic change has led to new elites, individualization, economic change of values, urbanization/industrialization, and economic pluralization, which in turn have lead to social change such as the desire for participation in political decision-making, social values, and social pluralization. Thus social change will in turn lead to political change. Though the book touches the topics of problems in the political sphere as a result of economic and social change, it does not, as the title indicates, dwell on political change as such. "Our fundamental hypothesis is that China is not necessarily heading for a landslide collapse of its political system such as occurred in Eastern Europe" (p. 5) is a cautious statement. Because of that caution it has little predictive power. Indeed, the authors may wish to avoid any prediction. While "there are [indeed] signs that China could be the first country to prove that the transition form a Stalinist-style planned economy to an (etatist) market economy under the rule of the a...


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