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The Rural Modern

Reconstructing the Self and State in Republican China

Kate Merkel-Hess

The Rural Modern

Kate Merkel-Hess

264 pages | 10 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2015
Cloth $40.00 ISBN: 9780226383279 Published August 2016
E-book $40.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226383309 Published August 2016
Discussions of China’s early twentieth-century modernization efforts tend to focus almost exclusively on cities, and the changes, both cultural and industrial, seen there. As a result, the communist peasant revolution appears as a decisive historical break. Kate Merkel-Hess corrects that misconception by demonstrating how crucial the countryside was for reformers in China long before the success of the communist revolution.
 
In The Rural Modern, Merkel-Hess shows that Chinese reformers and intellectuals created an idea of modernity that was not simply about what was foreign and new, as in Shanghai and other cities, but instead captured the Chinese people’s desire for social and political change rooted in rural traditions and institutions. She traces efforts to remake village education, economics, and politics, analyzing how these efforts contributed to a new, inclusive vision of rural Chinese life. Merkel-Hess argues that as China sought to redefine itself, such rural reform efforts played a major role, and tensions that emerged between rural and urban ways deeply informed social relations, government policies, and subsequent efforts to create a modern nation during the communist period.
Contents
A Note on Romanization
List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction
1          Writing for New Literates in the Chinese Countryside
2          To the Countryside
3          Organizing the Village
4          Village Contestations
5          A Movement Made and Lost
Conclusion
Archives
Notes
Glossary of Chinese Terms
Bibliography
Index
 
Review Quotes
Choice
"This concise history is well written and draws on numerous archives, including those of the Rockefeller Foundation, a major donor for some of the projects. It provides valuable context for existing biographies of the key activists and firsthand accounts of those who carried out the work."
New Books Network
"The Rural Modern demonstrates that rural reconstruction was not a failure: the efforts that Merkel-Hess describes to generate a rural version of Chinese modernity established an important precedent that has reverberated through modern Chinese history. Along the way, it introduces some fascinating documents in the course of its analysis, including primers and pamphlets aimed at popular readers that promoted the vision that literacy was a basis for self-transformation, self-discipline, and modern citizenship. The conclusion of the book considers how the approaches and values of a late turn to developmentalism were picked up in the postwar period. Highly recommended!"
Journal of Economic Literature
"Examines the rural reconstruction vision for the countryside of China during the 1920s and 1930s. Explores how reformers proposed to transform rural people into modern people, as national and international interest in the project grew, with the goal of creating a rural alternative to urban modernity that would mobilize rural people and strengthen the nation."
Michael Meyer, author of In Manchuria
“Most studies of modernization in China focus on urban transformation, fueled in part by policies that permitted mass migration from its rural half. Yet today, the Party aims to reverse that flow; with cities over capacity, plans now promise to ‘Bring the city to the village’ and ‘Build a new socialist countryside.’ As Merkel-Hess expertly explains in her compelling book, The Rural Modern, these schemes are actually not new at all, nor did they originate from the current regime. In the 1920s, the Mass Education Movement aimed to modernize rural China the way Henry Ford modernized mass production. Refreshingly, The Rural Modern spotlights a time when China’s leaders viewed the countryside not as a wasteland with backward citizens but as a solution to the nation’s problems and a pathway to its future.”
Gail Hershatter, University of California, Santa Cruz
“Mao Zedong came to power in China after years of making revolution in rural villages. In the wake of that victory, it has been too easy to dismiss the more moderate rural projects of the 1930s as tepid reforms that failed to address rural misery. Merkel-Hess restores this network of experiments to visibility. Rural reformers were torn between competing imperatives: empower farmers to determine their own fates or enlist them in a centrally directed national modernity. Their unfinished agenda continues to attract attention from Chinese thinkers across the political spectrum. The Rural Modern brilliantly shows us why these rural reformers belong at the heart of how we investigate China’s history.”
Jacob Eyferth, University of Chicago
The Rural Modern is the first major English-language study of the Chinese Rural Reconstruction movement: previous scholars’ works focus on individual reformers but not on the wider movement. Focusing on a topic that is important from both contemporary and historical perspectives, Merkel-Hess bases her book on extensive research and makes use of numerous previously unknown or underutilized sources. Clearly and beautifully written, The Rural Modern will be an important addition to existing scholarship for historians of China.”
Margherita Zanasi, Louisiana State University
The Rural Modern addresses a very important and neglected topic. Despite works focusing on the performance of rural economy, we still don’t have a full picture of the modernization movement in China’s rural hinterland. Merkel-Hess fills this glaring gap by contributing an extensive bird’s-eye narrative of a key aspect of China’s nation-building efforts, as well as creating a convincing panoramic view of the movement and highlighting both common themes and fundamental differences.”
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