As a doctoral candidate in search of a dissertation, I set out some years ago with the immodest ambition of discovering the origins of the Chinese revolution. Though scholars had focused on peasant nationalism, land reform, or the mass fine to explain the success of the Communists, it seemed to me that still another factor--the age-old heritage of Chinese peasant rebellion--should also be taken into account. To be sure, elements of this theme were evident in the writings of a number of authors, but the precise linkage between traditional protest and modern revolution was as yet unspecified. Argument for a connection usually proceeded by analogy: one identified those features considered "revolutionary" in the Communist movement and then demonstrated that these had precedents in rebel uprisings some hundreds or thousands of years before. Although suggestive, such an approach seemed unsatisfactory. After all, showing that certain ideas and practices were part of a repertoire of Chinese peasant protest did not establish that revolutionaries learned from or built upon these precedents in any direct fashion. To demonstrate conscious continuity called for another method.
I decided to pursue the relationship between rebels and revolutionaries by means of a local area study. The design was to concentrate on a geographical region which had been the home both of a well-established tradition of peasant insurrection and of a Communist base prior to 1949. By looking at a single coherent region over time, I expected to be able to identify actual links between one uprising and the next. The area selected was Huai-pei, habitat of inveterate rebels as well as a Communist