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  • A New Study of Peasants without the Party
  • Xiaorong Han (bio)
Lucien Bianco . Wretched Rebels: Rural Disturbances on the Eve of the Chinese Revolution. Translated by Philip Liddel. Harvard East Asia Monographs 323. Harvard University Asia Center. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010. xv, 271 pp. Hardcover $39.95, ISBN 978-0-674-03542-3.

This stimulating book is the abridged translation of Lucien Bianco's award-winning-monograph originally published in French in 2005. The author rightly describes this book as a sequel to his Peasants without the Party (PWP) published by M. E. Sharpe in 2001. Both books deal with similar topics and time periods, but they are different in structure, scope, and style. Whereas PWP is a collection of journal articles published independently and sporadically over a span of nearly three decades, Wretched Rebels reads like a book-length article because of its better organization and coherence. Wretched Rebels also covers more cases than PWP. New discoveries and the revision of criteria permit the author to increase the total number of incidents under study from 2,467 in PWP to 3,648 in Wretched Rebels. These are mostly small-scale, short-lived, and spontaneous peasant movements that were not directed or influenced by the Kuomintang (KMT) or Chinese Communist Party (CCP), on the one hand, and cannot be described as banditry, on the other. In collecting information about these cases, the author consulted local gazetteers, archives, wenshi ziliao (literary and historical sources, which are primarily collections of oral histories), as well as secondary publications. Finally, the insertion of as many as twenty-six boxes into the main text of Wretched Rebels allows the author to juxtapose general analyses with detailed descriptions of relevant cases, making the narrative not only informative but also interesting. If PWP caters more to specialists, Wretched Rebels can be a rewarding reading for specialists and students as well as the general reader.

The eight chapters of Wretched Rebels are arranged by neither chronological sequence nor geographic distribution of the resistance movements but by subjects. The first two chapters explore the two major forms of peasant resistance, respectively: movements against the administration, caused primarily by tax collection, military conscription, and other factors; and movements within society, including social movements against rural power holders and horizontal conflicts between [End Page 197] lineages, villages, sects, and secret societies. Chapter 3 describes the types of action the resisters frequently adopted, which ranged from peaceful measures, such as submitting petitions, to extremely violent behavior, such as burning and killing. Chapters 4 through 7 provide in-depth analyses of four major causes of peasant resistance: socio-political oppression, taxation, modernizing reforms, and military conscription. The last chapter is a thoughtful summary focusing on similarities and differences between peasant resistance in early twentieth-century China and pre-1850 France, and the continuities between peasant resistance movements in China before and after 1949.

Although the author is very cautious about making general conclusions regarding temporal and spatial variations of resistance movements, possibly because of the realization that the cases are not representative enough, the book still presents ample information about some important transitions over time as well as significant regional differences. For instance, the author points out that while anti-taxation resistance was prevalent throughout the first half of the twentieth century, it happened more frequently during the last few years of the Qing dynasty and the Nanjing decade than in other periods. The antimodernization movements erupted in two waves, first during the period of New Policies in late Qing and again in the 1930s when the Nationalist government started to reform the silk industry. Resistance against military requisitions became widespread at the end of the warlord era and the beginning of the Nanjing decade, and resistance against statute labor was much stronger between 1935 and 1949 than in the years before 1935. The incidents involving anticonscription took place mainly during the war against the Japanese invasion.

Readers will also learn much from this book about the geographic distribution of the resistance movements. Tax rates could vary enormously from one province to another or even between two neighboring counties. Secret societies were particularly prevailing in Shandong, Henan, and Sichuan. Jiaonong, or...