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Reviews 603 Kate Xiao Zhou. How the Farmers Changed China: Power ofthe People. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1996. xxviii, 275 pp. Hardcover $69.50, isbn 0-8133-2681-8. Paperback $19.95, isbn 0-8133-2682-6. Kate Zhou's work on agricultural reform and farmer movements ofthe past decade provides a fresh look at development in China's countryside. Her crisp and vivid writing makes an important addition to die understanding of rural policies and trends, ones that will shape the lives ofsome one billion Chinese people. Zhou's book is based on a somewhat unorthodox assertion: the 1980s reforms in China's countryside, usually seen as set in motion from the top levels of the country's government with the endorsement of the late Deng Xiaoping, were actually inspired by farmers themselves. Zhou writes that the political leadership saw that it could not stop the reform trend and decided to take credit for it by ratifying what the rural residents had already achieved on their own initiative. The analysis begins with a historical review of China's Mao-era reorganization of the countryside. Chapter 2 notes the repressive conditions following collectivization during the 1950s; farmers (Zhou prefers this term over the traditional "peasant" translation of the word nongmin) lost their incentive as their land was seized, and tiiey were made accountable to Communist Party cadre leadership . Migration was stifled, public works projects demanded resident participation , and even market festivals were prohibited. The conditions imposed by the communists were in some ways more repressive than those ofprerevolutionary China, as the wealth of rural residents was siphoned off to pay for higher urban standards ofliving. Zhou's discussion here is convincing, but she acknowledges in only two sentences the important achievements of controlling famine after the 1960s and of raising life expectancy in the countryside by more than twenty years. Though her goal is to show the negative features ofrural life in the pre-reform era, a more balanced approach to the early communist legacy would have been helpful. The book's third chapter traces four phases ofmovement toward die household production responsibility (baochan daohu) system, a system that gave farmers responsibility over specified pieces ofland and allowed them to keep produce beyond the state quotas. This historical section, running from 1956 to the 1980s, is quite detailed and very well researched. Here, Zhou's arguments that farmers had a strong inclination toward decollectivized agriculture are compelling; we see ex-© 1997 by University amples from all over China of dissatisfaction with the new communist governofHawai 'i Pressment's attempts to collectivize, and later communize, the countryside. Still, what might better be seen as a natural desire to better one's own household at the expense ofothers is portrayed as a rather exaggerated kind ofraw intelligence; Zhou 604 China Review International: Vol. 4, No. 2, Fall 1997 describes "ingenious farmers" who, in the late 1970s, bribed cadres to ignore their practice of baochan daohu. The role of the central and lower-level governments remains somewhat ambiguous , in spite of Zhou's praise of farmer innovations. In many ways, it does appear that farmers led the way in innovative methods of achieving autonomy over their production mediods, and rolling back decades of collectivization policies . But Zhou's need to discuss the policies introduced by the government in Anhui and Sichuan provinces, as well as the two-line struggle among top central leaders, indicates that die government was more than a passive observer, dragged along after trailblazing farmer reformers. (Could it be that some government leaders agreed with the farmers' actions, but that the necessity to cling to ideological roots for legitimization purposes made them keep silent, or even oppose, the rural actions?) The ambiguity over the position of political leaders weakens, but does not obviate, the book's central theme. Chapters 4 through 8 focus on ways that the farmers affected rural market formation, rural industry development, migration patterns, family planning, and the status ofwomen. The discussion of rural market reform is comprehensive, and points out how farmers were able to take advantage of the state procurement process in the early years of post-Mao reform, but at the same time how...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 603-605
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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