Rebels and Revolutionaries in North China, 1845-1945

By Elizabeth J. Perry | Go to book overview

3. Strategies of Peasant Survival in Huai-pei

Huai-pei peasants, we have seen, lived in a highly unstable natural environment. The resultant insecurity cast a dark shadow upon economic, social, and political life in the area. With productive opportunities severely constrained, peasants turned to alternative means of promoting and safeguarding their survival. Many households pursued the familiar strategies of controlling family size, borrowing from others, or moving elsewhere in an effort to obtain or conserve scarce resources. Such solutions, common to peasants the world over, assumed a particular form in Huai-pei that was conducive to the emergence of a diverse array of more aggressive strategies. These violent adaptations to a hostile environment can, for the most part, be subsumed within two broad categories. The first category includes offensive attempts to seize the resources of others: the predatory strategy. The second is composed of efforts to guard against such attacks: the protective strategy.

Although the motivation for these strategies was personal survival, their effect was to provide peasants with valuable experience in cooperation, mobility, and high-risk behavior. It is often assumed that sideline pursuits work primarily to sap rebellious potential.* Missing from this view is the point that adaptive strategies are more than simply income boosters. Far from

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*
For example, James Scott has commented, "To the degree that the marginal opportunities open to the peasant do in fact alleviate short-run subsistence needs, to that degree they tend to reduce the likelihood of more direct and violent solutions" ( 1976, p. 204).

-48-

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Rebels and Revolutionaries in North China, 1845-1945
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xiii
  • 1. Introduction 1
  • 2. Prelude to Protest: the Huai-Pei Environment 10
  • 3. Strategies of Peasant Survival in Huai-Pei 48
  • Conclusion 94
  • 4. Predators Turn Rebels: the Case of the Nien 96
  • Conclusion 148
  • 5. Protectors Turn Rebels: the Case of the Red Spears 152
  • Conclusion 205
  • 6. Rebels Meet Revolutionaries: the Communist Movement in Huai-Pei 208
  • Conclusion 245
  • 7. Conclusion 248
  • Reference Matter 263
  • Appendix A Confession of Chang Lo-hsing 265
  • Appendix B Red Spear Code 267
  • Appendix C North China Protective Societies Contemporary with the Red Spears 269
  • Notes 274
  • Bibliography 294
  • Character List 312
  • Index 317
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