Understanding the Chinese Revolution

source: Lucien Bianco, Origins of the Chinese Revolution, frontispiece The Chinese Revolution is one of the world-historical events that has set the stage for the modern world. And, unlike the French Revolution or the Russian Revolution, it is sufficiently contemporary that there are very substantial sources of data and informants about its occurrence. Several generations …

Change in peasant China

Image: Shanxi countryside In 1978 China's government initiated a major change in the agricultural economy. It began a rapid transition from communal agriculture to the household responsibility system, which returned the responsibilities and incentives associated with farming to the farmer rather than the commune. This was the beginning of the market-friendly reforms that led to …

China’s rural transition

Roughly half of China's population is still rural, living in villages and towns and dependent primarily on farming. In 1985 that percentage was about 76%, so there has already been a massive transformation of China's economy and society towards greater urbanization. (Albert Nyberg and Scott Rozelle treated this process in an important World Bank publication, Accelerating …

Rural studies in China

I spent a rewarding afternoon at the Institute for Rural Studies at Central China Normal University in Wuhan this week (link). The Institute is the leading center for research on China's rural population, and it has conducted research projects for decades on villages throughout China. It is an important resource for government officials as they …

CPM in West Bengal

One thing that is interesting about Indian politics is the fact that states have a great deal of autonomy, and there are parties based in various states that are distinct from both Congress and BJP. One of those parties is the Communist Party of India, which has evolved into a pro-poor, anti-capitalist electoral party that …

Marx on Russia

In 1881 Marx wrote a letter to Vera Zasulich, an important Russian follower, that addresses the question of theory and prediction when it comes to thinking about the future course of history.  In particular, he denies that his theories have determinate predictive implications for the development of capitalism or socialism in Russia.  Here is a link to the …

High modernism and expert knowledge

James Scott is one of the really exceptional social scientists of his generation.  His contributions to peasant studies have been transformative -- his ideas of the "moral economy of the peasant" and "weapons of the weak" are now part of the tool set that we all use in trying to make sense of agrarian societies …

Alleviating rural poverty

What theories and values ought to underlie our best thinking about global economic development?  Along with Amartya Sen (Development as Freedom), I believe that the best answer to the ethical question involves giving top priority to the goal of increasing the realization of human capabilities across the whole of society (The Paradox of Wealth and …

Analyzing peasant consciousness

painting: Jean-François Millet, The Gleaners (1857)painting: Edward H. Corbould, Hetty and Captain Donnithorne in Mrs. Poyser's DairyJames Scott is a scholar who has shed more light on the mentality and agency of rural people than almost any other since the reinvigoration of peasant studies in the 1970s. Scott's book The Moral Economy of the Peasant: …

Economic history analyzed

The history of a region or people encompasses a multitude of aspects of social life: culture, religion, political institutions, social movements, environmental change, technology, population—and the circumstances and processes of economic change that the region undergoes. One does not need to be a reductionist in order to observe that the economic circumstances a society experiences, …

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