Start Date

9-12-2012 9:00 AM

End Date

9-12-2012 10:15 AM

Description

Abstract

With the reform policy of 1979, the household responsibility system effectively and largely dismantled the people’s commune system that had been in place for over a decade during the Cultural Revolution. Partly as an imperative policy from above, and partly as an aspiration of peasant households to claim right of usage over a piece of land, over 90% of rural assets that were collectively owned and managed by the village community have been de-collectivized. Nevertheless, fragments of collectivity have remained in diverse forms, with variations in terms of ownership or management.

Two cases have drawn much media attention: the Huaxi Villagein Jiangsu Province near Shanghai, and the Nanjie Villagein Henan Province. The former, rural by administrative category, is a de facto industrial and financial conglomerate, its total assets valued at 16 billion yuan; all villagers are “shareholders” entitled to lucrative social welfare and dividends, though not decision over the conglomerate’s major policies and strategies.

While Huaxi Village has its wealth symbolized by a 328-metre skyscraper hotel and a one-ton bull made of pure gold,NanjieVillageresorts to the ideological rhetoric of equality and class struggle, with Mao Zedong’s portrait in the village plaza and in every home. Not as wealthy as Huaxi Village,Nanjie Villageis also engaged in some industries; the arable land is used to grow seeds for seeds companies, while staple food is bought from the market; it has kept the tradition of the collective taking full care of housing, education, health, pension, etc.

Both cases have surfed the current of capitalist production, and at the same time have guaranteed the livelihood of members of the collective on the basis of egalitarian distribution. Livelihood-related matters, in a sense, are not monetized and abandoned to the dictatorship of the market. Indeed, the two cases may be regarded as examples of two large extended families maintaining more or less egalitarian principles under the tight grip of a patriarch within the family, but are totally submitted to the imaginations and pursuits of capitalism.

Compared to the above cases symbolized by the colours of gold and red, another case deserves examination but has been scarcely reported by the mass media due to a preference of its leadership for low profile, and perhaps also due to its incongruence with the mainstream. This is the case of Zhoujiazhuang, admired by some and ridiculed by others as the only surviving “people’s commune” inChina. Located 50 km from Shijiazhuang, the provincial capital of Hebei Province, Zhoujiazhuang in the early 1980s resisted external pressures for it to divide up its assets among the commune members, and has persisted up to today in operating as a “people’s commune” in substance, and a “cooperative” in name. Readers may harbour doubts as to the nature of this “commune-like cooperative”; in a commercialized world, anything may become a gimmick to draw attention and to sell in the market. However, this does not seem to be the case with Zhoujiazhuang, as it holds at bay journalists and academics who attempt to poke their nose into the township, inclined to self-congratulatory tasks of mystification or de-mystification. Contextualized in the last three decades of China, this case is particularly interesting in illustrating the conditions and difficulties confronting the villagers in persevering in collectivistic relations, while adapting to changing circumstances.

The authors have browsed through available literature on the history of Zhoujiazhuang, made two visits to the township in the last year, and conversed with some leaders and ordinary villagers. Impressionistic as they may be, the thoughts presented here are an attempt to make sense of the aspirations, needs, wants, frustrations and anxieties of the villagers in a specific locality, with a specific history. This preliminary study attempts to look at some of the conditions that make the practice of collectivism possible outside the dictates of capitalistic relations, and glimpse into the difficulties and possibilities of the defense and management of collective property. The authors also hope to investigate into the way the villagers conceptualize “property” by studying how they look at themselves (for example, as peasants, or as entrepreneurs), and how they relate to land (for example, as commodity, or as the soil that gives life). It is hoped that review of the history of the practices of collectivism in ruralChinacan open up imaginations for the enhancement of endeavours for alternatives which are ecologically and socially just, and shed light on paths for moving away from the curse of developmentalism and marketization – the capitalist path of greed and destruction.

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Recommended Citation

Lau, K. C. (2012, December). How is collectivism possible in rural China? Paper presented at 2012 International Conference on Sustainability & Rural Reconstruction, Southwest University, Chongqingng, China.

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Dec 9th, 9:00 AM Dec 9th, 10:15 AM

How is collectivism possible in rural China?

Abstract

With the reform policy of 1979, the household responsibility system effectively and largely dismantled the people’s commune system that had been in place for over a decade during the Cultural Revolution. Partly as an imperative policy from above, and partly as an aspiration of peasant households to claim right of usage over a piece of land, over 90% of rural assets that were collectively owned and managed by the village community have been de-collectivized. Nevertheless, fragments of collectivity have remained in diverse forms, with variations in terms of ownership or management.

Two cases have drawn much media attention: the Huaxi Villagein Jiangsu Province near Shanghai, and the Nanjie Villagein Henan Province. The former, rural by administrative category, is a de facto industrial and financial conglomerate, its total assets valued at 16 billion yuan; all villagers are “shareholders” entitled to lucrative social welfare and dividends, though not decision over the conglomerate’s major policies and strategies.

While Huaxi Village has its wealth symbolized by a 328-metre skyscraper hotel and a one-ton bull made of pure gold,NanjieVillageresorts to the ideological rhetoric of equality and class struggle, with Mao Zedong’s portrait in the village plaza and in every home. Not as wealthy as Huaxi Village,Nanjie Villageis also engaged in some industries; the arable land is used to grow seeds for seeds companies, while staple food is bought from the market; it has kept the tradition of the collective taking full care of housing, education, health, pension, etc.

Both cases have surfed the current of capitalist production, and at the same time have guaranteed the livelihood of members of the collective on the basis of egalitarian distribution. Livelihood-related matters, in a sense, are not monetized and abandoned to the dictatorship of the market. Indeed, the two cases may be regarded as examples of two large extended families maintaining more or less egalitarian principles under the tight grip of a patriarch within the family, but are totally submitted to the imaginations and pursuits of capitalism.

Compared to the above cases symbolized by the colours of gold and red, another case deserves examination but has been scarcely reported by the mass media due to a preference of its leadership for low profile, and perhaps also due to its incongruence with the mainstream. This is the case of Zhoujiazhuang, admired by some and ridiculed by others as the only surviving “people’s commune” inChina. Located 50 km from Shijiazhuang, the provincial capital of Hebei Province, Zhoujiazhuang in the early 1980s resisted external pressures for it to divide up its assets among the commune members, and has persisted up to today in operating as a “people’s commune” in substance, and a “cooperative” in name. Readers may harbour doubts as to the nature of this “commune-like cooperative”; in a commercialized world, anything may become a gimmick to draw attention and to sell in the market. However, this does not seem to be the case with Zhoujiazhuang, as it holds at bay journalists and academics who attempt to poke their nose into the township, inclined to self-congratulatory tasks of mystification or de-mystification. Contextualized in the last three decades of China, this case is particularly interesting in illustrating the conditions and difficulties confronting the villagers in persevering in collectivistic relations, while adapting to changing circumstances.

The authors have browsed through available literature on the history of Zhoujiazhuang, made two visits to the township in the last year, and conversed with some leaders and ordinary villagers. Impressionistic as they may be, the thoughts presented here are an attempt to make sense of the aspirations, needs, wants, frustrations and anxieties of the villagers in a specific locality, with a specific history. This preliminary study attempts to look at some of the conditions that make the practice of collectivism possible outside the dictates of capitalistic relations, and glimpse into the difficulties and possibilities of the defense and management of collective property. The authors also hope to investigate into the way the villagers conceptualize “property” by studying how they look at themselves (for example, as peasants, or as entrepreneurs), and how they relate to land (for example, as commodity, or as the soil that gives life). It is hoped that review of the history of the practices of collectivism in ruralChinacan open up imaginations for the enhancement of endeavours for alternatives which are ecologically and socially just, and shed light on paths for moving away from the curse of developmentalism and marketization – the capitalist path of greed and destruction.