Cadres and Kin: Making a Socialist Village in West China, 1921-1991

Cadres and Kin: Making a Socialist Village in West China, 1921-1991

Cadres and Kin: Making a Socialist Village in West China, 1921-1991

Cadres and Kin: Making a Socialist Village in West China, 1921-1991


Building on ethnographic research in a rural village in Sichuan, China's most populous province, this book examines changing relationships between social organization, politics, and economy during the twentieth century. Offering a wealth of empirical data on township and village life during the pre-Communist 1930's and 1940's, the decades of collectivism, and the present era of post-Mao reforms, the author explores the historical development of a local state regime he characterizes as managerial corporatism.

Genealogies of power suggest that agnatic solidarity among selective patrilineal kin, as well as other modes of association based on marriage, ritual kinship, and personal friendship, were critical factors in the local political arena. The particularly close relationships that developed among a core group of local cadres and their kin during the Maoist years shaped the ways in which party-state policies were interpreted, implemented, and experienced by fellow villagers. These ties were alsocritical in orchestrating village industrialization and corporate community building in the 1980's and 1990's.

The processes of community and elite formation entailed the mobilization of some alliances of interest, emotion, and exchange while at the same time suppressing others. The author examines strategies and patterns of interfamily cooperation and conflict during the tumultuous decades -- the 1920's-1940's -- of civil unrest, inflation, and burgeoning taxation. He shows how historical relationships between local families and officials were instrumental in shaping the reorganization of rural life under Communism. The social organization of polity and economy in Qiaolou village during thereform era bore many hallmarks of both corporate and corporatist practices. Loosened state controls enabled village cadres to create new roles for themselves as economic patrons, drawing on economic, social, political, and sy


For years, I kept a cartoon that seemed to epitomize my existence. In it, a man sits at a wide table, typewriter before him, piles of paper stacked high to each side. In the background, a woman, presumably his spouse, stands at a door atop a short flight of stairs. "Finish it?" the man is asking, with his head tilted quizzically. "Why would I ever want to finish it?"

After a while, I put the cartoon in a shoebox. I didn't find it funny anymore. My children, Nikos and Kalliopi, have spent their whole lives learning to cope with dissertations, books, papers, and articles. But they have been my principal source of inspiration, both in writing and in life. Now there will be more time to enjoy wildflowers. They, and their mother Tasoula, appreciate more than anyone else the difficult road I followed on this journey to Sichuan and the many detours made along the way, sometimes on paths less taken.

An opportunity to work in rural China presented itself in the late 1980s, when I was a graduate student in anthropology. Myron Cohen, my principal advisor, set up a multiyear collaborative research project on Chinese family organization with a grant from the Luce Foundation. The first year of that project, 1988-89, brought several Chinese colleagues from the Sichuan and Shanghai Academies of Social Science to Columbia University's East Asian Institute, where project participants planned a joint'oint household survey. That fall, Cohen, Eugene Murphy (another graduate student), and I were to go to separate villages in China for a year of field research, but other events intervened.

The summer of 1989 found me in Greece, where Tasoula, pregnant with Nikos, was conducting her own fieldwork. With no word from colleagues in China and none of the letters of invitation necessary to procure a research visa, I found a job in Thessaloniki. We settled in for a winter in Macedonia, with the warmth of little Nikos now beside us. My favorite hours were the silent ones just before dawn. We would watch the indigo of night fade softly from the sky, and then Nikos would sleep in my arms as the sun rose and the city began to stir. I did not leave for China until August 1990, after we had moved back to New York.

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