Village China

Published on Author paulsen

Donkey Power Rules!
The village of Maoping in 1982 represented both the continuity of Chinese rural life and the changes brought about by the Communist Party.  The peasantry appears unaffected by the efforts at modernization begun near China’s eastern urban centers.  Housing was built out of wood and earth in a traditional process centuries old.  Rice remained the staple of the village diet; villagers consumed up to two lbs. daily.  Out in the woods men still cut bamboo by hand.

By 1982 the revolutionary goals of the Communist Party had given way to pragmatism.  The failure and starvation caused by the Great Leap Forward certainly contributed to a more cautious and realistic attitude toward reform by a party that was becoming more mature.  The peasants in Maoping at the time of the film were once again allowed to keep their produce, in contrast to collectivization, contributing to a rise in productivity.  The de jure equality between men and women is just that, with the de facto separation of men and women into manual labor and homemaking in the workforce left untouched.  The village doctor also continues to use traditional remedies alongside modern medicine.   Likewise, the CCP secretary in the village is less of an ideologue and more of a “father figure,” a role very similar to the village headman of past centuries.

The Communist Party’s most successful reform of village life in the film was education.  Many children were likely the first literate generation in their family.  Education was a merger of local and state involvement; the state provided the teacher, the village built the school, and the parents bought the books.  Overall education was the one area in which the Chinese state succeeded in reforming village culture.

2 Responses to Village China

  1. Alongside education should be healthcare: neither was systematically available in villages before Mao. Don’t belittle 18 months training. If intensive, it gives enough to treat many chronic and acute problems, and to triage. In the background is the penetration of government to the village level, under the Qing villages were more or less self-governed with little in either direct or systematic ties to other levels. Beijing made no pretense of trying to affect villages, as long as there was neither rebellion nor failure to pay taxes and corvee.

    As to gender issues, note that women were working in the rice fields. Until the early 20th century, in much of China foot binding was standard, so it was painful for women to walk, and working in the fields was out of the question (this was not true of Hakka or Muslim Chinese, or non-Chinese minorities). Women also had access to education. I know of no society, now or in history, that did not have gendered work roles. But 1984 was in that regard in sharp contrast to (say) 1884.

    Finally, as we’ll read, there’s lots of variation across place and time (even under Mao) in the extent of family plots and other aspects of collectivization. In general, family plots weren’t unusual. And in wheat growing regions, tractors required some sort of cooperative system, because they can’t be used if there are field boundaries or variations in when planting took place. In such cases, private plots represented retrogression, not improvement, potentially hurting output and (more clearly) lowering labor productivity.

    We’ll see more on the Great Leap Forward in the film Thursday night.

  2. The overall role of family and the community is also crucial to Village China. We saw how a village raises the children collectively, even helping a family build additions to their home for new members. The entire family lives together sharing a general atrium where everyone can convene. The shift from village based farming to family based plots, also emphasizes the importance of the family working together with a collective rather than state goal motivating them. The monotony and repetitiveness of daily life appear however to be slowly changing as the conveniences of 20th century technology make their way into rural China.