Farewell to Peasant China: Rural Urbanization and Social Change in the Late Twentieth Century

Farewell to Peasant China: Rural Urbanization and Social Change in the Late Twentieth Century

Farewell to Peasant China: Rural Urbanization and Social Change in the Late Twentieth Century

Farewell to Peasant China: Rural Urbanization and Social Change in the Late Twentieth Century

Synopsis

Chinese urbanization, including the daily life, migration strategies, and life choices of villagers and townspeople, is the focus of this study by Chinese and North American scholars. From Tianjin in the north, to Tibet in the West, and to Guangdong and Fujian on the southeast coast, a tale is told of transforming countrysides, regional disparities, and the prospects of a fully urbanized China as the twenty-first century dawns. This first broad-scale anthropological investigation of Chinese urbanization captures both the dynamic essence of the urbanizations process and the remarkable vitality of post-reform Chinese society.

Excerpt

Walter Goldschmidt

Reading the essays in Farewell to Peasant China makes me feel like Rip van Winkle awakening from a long sleep. To appreciate its impact on our understanding of rural life in China we must look at the peasantry there and in the world over as it was when I was doing research on rural America and on peasant communities. It will be useful to see this in terms of the rural- urban dichotomy in social theory.

This distinction has played a large role in sociology. The difference between rural and urban life caught the attention of many pioneers in sociology, especially those influenced by anthropology or cross-cultural perspectives as, for instance, Émile Durkheim and Max Weber. It was, however, most clearly expressed by Ferdinand Tönnies (1957, [1887]) in his distinction between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, the former referring to the community as a traditional social unit (Gemeinde = commons, commonality) and the latter to the groupings created to structure city life (Gesellschaft = company, both as business and as social gathering).

In this country early in the century, the empirical orientation of the "Chicago School" of sociology used that brash city as its great laboratory to document the nature of urban existence and what it did to those who came there as, for instance, expressed in the essays in the classic, Gold Coast and Slum (Zorbaugh 1929). The best definition of urbanism I know is Louis Wirth's essay, Urbanism as a Way of Life (Wirth 1938). The city is defined as a large dense concentration of heterogeneous people. They are ethnically heterogeneous because cities always are created by in-migration and are diverse in occupation because their existence depends on the division of labor and occupational specialization. These characteristics have several significant consequences for social behavior. The large population means that people are surrounded by strangers and that much social interaction is therefore impersonal and mediated through economic relations rather than . . .

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