Peasants and the State: The Political economy of a Village in Maoist and Post-Mao China

Young Kyun Yang

PhD Thesis. 2000

In this dissertation, I examine the relationship between the state and society, and explore the activities of peasants in Maoist and Post-Mao China based on the fieldwork in Chenguang Village, Tianjin City. To evaluate the strength of the state and examine the state-society relation in Maoist China, I explore the process of policy implementation at the local level, and the role of local cadres in that process. The state was strong enough to bring about radical changes to and exert firm control over rural society. Yet, when state policies were not in their best interests, peasants, sometimes with the help of local cadres, practiced the "everyday forms of resistance." Local cadres who were at the key point of engagement between the state and society played the dual role of the representatives of peasants and the representatives of state authority. My data indicate that, in general, local cadres leaned more toward the role of state authorities.

Changes in state-society relations during the post-Maoist era are reflected in the status and role of local cadres. Not only did their authority and prestige decline, but their power was limited and selective during the post-Mao period. The two remarkable categories of people that attract China specialists' interests in the reform period are entrepreneurs and former and current cadres. By taking risks and making innovations, village entrepreneurs led to changes in the village economy and facilitated its fast growth. Former cadres in Chenguang seemed to receive little benefit from the village. Only a few leading cadres enjoyed power and wealth, which came from their personal ability to make the most out of their positions.
This dissertation contributes to our understanding of Chinese society. It also contributes to scholarship on the state, by arguing that it is important to look at interactions between local cadres (as state agents) and peasants at the local level. This dissertation should also be of relevance to wider studies of socialist and post-socialist transformations. This study of community change in one village in China raises further questions in comparison with burgeoning literature on socialist and post-socialist transformations in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and other parts of the world.