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Book Review


Friedman, Edward, Paul G. Pickowicz and Mark Selden. Revolution, Resistance and Reform in Village China (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005). 368 pp, $45.00.

      China Revolution, Resistance, and Reform in Village China goes to the heart of China, its countryside, in search of "the contested relationship between village and state"(inside dust cover). What emerges is an illuminating inside look at one rural Chinese village during pivotal years. Well researched, insightful and honest, this is not light reading, but will reward the China enthusiast and the historian of modern China. 1
     A follow-up to their Chinese Village, Socialist State this book was twenty-five years in the making. It traces the story of Wugong village in Hengshui province located about 200 kilometers south of Beijing. Wugong was one of the Mao-era "model villages", whose primary goal was to prove the collective effort was more important and ultimately more successful than other options most notably capitalism. Starting in the late 1950's during the "Great Leap Forward", Friedman and his colleagues offer an insider's look as the villagers of Wugong struggled to meet ever higher demands for grain output from a central bureaucracy which knew little of the hardships they faced. Famine, flood, corruption and inter-family feuds are all here. So too are the dark years of the Cultural Revolution, the emergence of China's modern economy, and the tremors from distant Tiananmen Square.  Through it all, the village, led by the politically astute Boss Geng Changsuo and such memorable characters as Zhang Duan the Ox, Tigress Xu and Geng Xiufeng, stays afloat even as massive upheaval sweeps away other "model villages." 2
     There is much here for undergraduates to consider, starting with abrupt changes in the marching orders from Beijing.  In the 1950's, for example, villagers were told to produce rice.  Later, they were ordered to switch to sorghum, then, fertilizer and and finally, in the 1970s and 1980s, pigs.  Individual profit making was condemned in the 1960's only to become a symbol of party loyalty thirty years later. As one veteran mechanic noted, "If they say it's good, we say it's good. If they say it's bad, then we say it's bad." 3
     Factional cooperation was central to Wugong's survival.  Wugong was composed of three major sections; the Geng and the Li families shared control of the northern and southern sections, while the Geng controlled the central section alone. Unlike many villages that whose family feuds resulted in bloodshed, especially during the Cultural Revolution, Wugong's factions avoided both the turbulence typical of some cities and the rural massacres which tore provinces such as Guangxi asunder.  When the Li family was given control of the local militia in Wugong, their archrival, Boss Geng "…went before the young loyalist and asked for criticism. He scolded himself and asked for criticism. He scolded himself for the slow development of the village. Others defended him and praised village progress. Order reigned. It was socialist theater." Students may assess why Wugong remained so peaceful? There is good material for class discussions here on state legitimacy, corruption and factionalism.  Was Wugong's relative harmony a result of its special status as a "model village," because Boss Geng was not as corrupt or brutal as leaders in other areas, or because he handled a potentially fatal confrontation so skillfully? 4
     Revolution, Resistance and Reform emphasizes as well the changing roles of women. Tigress Xu, Boss Geng's wife, is the family's maternal authority, unafraid to exercise her power.  Family and political connections ultimately win for Huijuan, daughter of Xu and Boss Geng, the position of deputy director of health care in Shijiahuang, a position "for which she had no training." Meanwhile the luckless and abused writer Shi fails to get a divorce yet organizes a school system for local children. Though these women's voices will appear archetypal to those familiar with recent Chinese history, students new to the subject will find them fascinating.  Here too students will see how China's one child policy, birth control and forced sterilizations impacted rural Chinese women and their families.  5
     Because it is drawn largely from personal interviews, Chinese Village can also engage students in assessing bias and source reliability.  Students can also examine the relationship between political legitimacy and historical legitimacy. For example, when rewriting village history yet again during the Soviet-China War, " positive references to the Soviet Union were excised [while] negative references to the United States were removed."   Writing history, it seems, was politically expedient.  6
     This is not a book that offers much in the way of national context; Mao and his cadres are very much outsiders. Chinese Village puts Wugong at the center of the story. Missing too are the voices of the average worker.  Instead, the authors stress the importance of the community's movers and shakers.  Further, students reading Chinese Village will need other sources if they are to comprehend the drastic differences between city, rural town and village during these years.  7
     Revolution, Resistance and Reform in Village China is history in a very small place.  Even so, students will find within it much wider lessons.  8
James M. Hatch
Fukuoka International School Japan

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