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New Views of the Agricultural Economy of Republican China: A Review Article by Yixin Chen Jindai Ji Lu Yu xiangcun (Rural society in modem Hebei, Shandong, and Henan). Edited by Cong Hanxiang. Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe, 1995. 540 pp. Jiu Zhonguo Sunan nongjia jingji yanjiu (The traditional Chinese peasant economy in southern Jiangsu). By Cao Xingsui. Beijing: Zhongyang bianyi chubanshe, 1996.241 pp. Minguo shiqi de nongye (Agriculture in Republican China). By Cao Xingsui, et al. Nanjing: Jiangsu wenshi ziliao bianjibu chubanshe, 1993.302 pp. Zhongguo jindai nongye keji shi (The history of modem Chinese agricultural science and technology). Edited by Guo Wentao and Cao Longgong. Beijing: Zhongguo Nongye keji chubanshe, 1989.644 pp. Ever since 1949, Chinese study of the history of agriculture in the Republican era has been governed by Marxist theory. According to this theory, a pattern of unequal landownership, in which a small number of landlords possessed a large amount of land, was the major obstacle to the modernization of Chinese agriculture and rural society. Through extensive land ownership, the landlords dominated tenancy systems, heavily exploited their tenants, and often spent the surplus value on luxury goods instead of reinvesting it in agriculture. Owning a small piece of land or none at all, the small owner-cultivators and tenant farmers were unable to accumulate savings necessary for increasing productivity. As an agent of the landlord ruling class, this theory contends, the Nationalist regime did little to resolve the agrarian problem, preferring instead to degrade the living standards of the rural masses by increasing land taxes and exactions. 1 * The author thanks Bruce Kinzer and Denys Leighton for their suggestions and editorial changes and an anonymous referee's critical comments but assumes responsibility for any errors and omissions. The author would also like to thank the Chiang Ching-kuoFoundationfor InternationalScholarlyExchange inthe U.S.A for its support of the author's project "State andAgriculture in Republican China," of which this article is a part, and the History Department ofUNC-Wilmington for its Mosley Award to support this writing. Twentieth-Century China, Vol.28, NO.1 (November,2002): 83-106 84 Twentieth-Century China In the West, scholars have shown little positive interest in this line of thinking , because it fails to explain why the agricultural economy grew prior to 1937. Western scholars have attributed this growth to the commercialization and internationalization of the Chinese economy, an increasingly intensive use of labor, and introduction of modem technology such as new' seeds, fertilizers, and machinery . What Western scholars have disagreed about, as exemplified by the 1991 debate between Ramon Myers and Philip Huang, is whether the growth was genuine, or only an "involutionary" kind of development, lagging behind the rate of population growth and resulting in diminished returns on per capita labor; and whether the growth generated an increase in the income of farming households, or benefited only a few while adversely affecting the majority, leading to social stratification of rural communities.2 Since the data on pre-1949 agriculture are incomplete, unsystematic, and often inaccurate, scholars have no quantitative basis for resolving their debate in a conclusive way. The books under review here break away from Chinese official theory and complement Western scholarship. Rather than focusing on the problem of landownership , the authors have extended their research into topics such as the rural market, rural industry, agricultural science and technology, and state policies, and demonstrated that these areas are also important for understanding the pre1949 agricultural economy. Moreover, the authors have shown that in these areas many progressive developments occurred and that the Chinese agricultural economy, at least prior to 1937, performed better than the official theory has postulated. Making extensive use of the Qing and Nationalist archives, county gazetteers, the Japanese Mantetsu (Southern Manchurian Railway Company) surveys, and Republican periodicals, the authors provide extremely rich information that will be valuable to Western scholars. Some subjects they investigate, such as rural market towns and Nationalist agricultural programs, have largely escaped Western scholars' attention. To be sure, Chinese scholars have published other books about the Republican agricultural economy, but these works in most cases have either lacked in-depth analysis or were prepared as collections of source materials...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-5065
Print ISSN
1521-5385
Pages
pp. 83-106
Launched on MUSE
2021-05-25
Open Access
No
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