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Force and Contention in Contemporary China
Memory and Resistance in the Long Shadow of the Catastrophic Past


Part of Cambridge Studies in Contentious Politics

  • Date Published: August 2016
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107539822

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About the Authors
  • Why is contemporary China such a politically contentious place? Relying on the memories of the survivors of the worst catastrophe of Maoist rule and documenting the rise of resistance and protest at the grassroots level, this book explains how the terror, hunger, and loss of the socialist past influences the way in which people in the deep countryside see and resist state power in the reform era up to the present-day repression of the People's Republic of China central government. Ralph A. Thaxton, Jr provides us with a worm's-eye view of an 'unknown China' - a China that cannot easily or fully be understood through made-in-the-academy theories and frameworks of why and how rural people have engaged in contentious politics. This book is a truly unique and disturbing look at how rural people relate to an authoritarian political system in a country that aspires to become a stable world power.

    • The first book to explore how memories of Mao era suffering have seeped into the present
    • Shows how rural famine survivors see and resist state power and injustice today
    • Illuminates the actual condition of humanity at the local village level in a state that has aspirations to become a world power
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Ralph Thaxton is one of the finest scholars of modern China working today. His forensic attention to the story of Da Fo village, which this excellent study continues, illustrates the universal in the particular. He works with themes involving memory, struggle, power, and resistance which, while intimately linked to an understanding of the development of rural China from the late 1950s onwards and their resonance right up to the present, deploy a rich and diverse menu of intellectual resources and tools to make sense of the unique and often traumatic pathway that individuals traveled over this time. An extraordinary achievement, which is in parts inspiring, stimulating, and, in the end, deeply moving. Whoever reads this and his other studies will view Chinese history and politics, and the myriads of lives of which it has been constituted, with fresh eyes. A masterful and masterly account that deserves the widest possible audience.' Kerry Brown, Kings College London and Director of the Lau China Institute

    'In vivid human detail, Ralph Thaxton tells the story of China's rise, not from the perspective of successful elites, but from a poor and marginalized community whose long memories of government cruelty and incompetence still influence their quest for political justice today.' Richard Madsen, Distinguished Professor of Sociology, University of California, San Diego

    'Ralph Thaxton has provided us with the most fine-grained analysis of contention in China we're ever likely to see. Grounded in decades of field work, Force and Contention in Contemporary China goes both deep and wide, using life stories and memories of the Great Leap Forward famine to question our understanding of topics as varied as state penetration, reform-era change, coercion and rural rage, and who the targets of contention are.' Kevin J. O'Brien, Walter and Elise Haas Professor of Asian Studies, Alann P. Bedford Professor of Asian Studies, and Director of the Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley

    'What are the long-run political and social effects of a lethal state-created tragedy? Thaxton explores the after effects of the Great Leap Forward with great and telling detail for a single village. The combination of large questions examined on a small canvas works a kind of magic. One could do no better than to read Thaxton's fine volume as a companion to Yang Jisheng's Tombstone to grasp the politics of trauma.' James C. Scott, Sterling Professor of Political Science and Anthropology and Co-Director of the Program in Agrarian Studies, Yale University, Connecticut

    'This book is the culmination of a trilogy that will stand as the most important documentary study of rural China under communism. The singular message of this installment is that the reform era, for all its material advance, has done nothing to redress the legitimacy crisis produced by Maoism. Thaxton shows convincingly that China's rural people have never accepted authoritarianism.' Bruce Gilley, Director of Graduate Programs in Public Policy, Portland State University

    'This work provides new insight into the mentality and actions of villagers for whom the post-Mao reforms have brought more injustice and hardship. While others have exposed the problems of reform, no other presents so clearly the peasant perspective of when and why things went wrong and who is to blame - often the central rather than just local authorities. Arguing that memories of the Great Leap Forward catastrophe played a powerful role in shaping resistance in the reform period, Ralph Thaxton will surely spark debate about the role of memory in political action and thus advance our understanding of the complexity of the Chinese countryside and the challenges that the CCP faces.' Jean C. Oi, William Haas Professor in Chinese Politics and Senior Fellow, the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University, California

    'This fascinating volume probes the troubled relationship between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and ordinary people in rural China … Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.' S. K. Ma, Choice

    'Force and Contention in Contemporary China is an informing book that brings us to authoritarian China's unresolved legitimacy crisis by analysing the way in which memories of CCP-inflicted suffering in the Mao era persist in the lives of contemporary rural people. Meticulously researched and eloquently written, it will be essential reading for scholars and non-specialists of political science and Chinese revolutionary history, and it will definitely inspire further studies.' Hang Lin, Democratization

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    Product details

    • Date Published: August 2016
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107539822
    • length: 488 pages
    • dimensions: 230 x 152 x 27 mm
    • weight: 0.73kg
    • contains: 14 b/w illus. 2 maps
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Cast of characters: Da Fo and surrounding villages (1945–2012)
    1. The violent dawn of reform
    2. Contemporary tax resistance and the memory of the great leap's plunder
    3. Birth planning and popular resistance
    4. Rural schools and the 'best citizens of the state': the struggle for knowledge and empowerment in the aftermath of the great leap
    5. Official corruption and popular contention in the reform era
    6. The rise of the electricity tigers: monopoly, corruption, and memory
    7. The defeat of the democratic experiment and its consequences
    8. Contentious petitioners and the revival of Mao era repression
    9. Migration and contention in the construction sector
    10. The rise of the martial artists and the two faces of mafia
    Conclusion. Big questions, small answers from Da Fo.

  • Author

    Ralph A. Thaxton, Jr, Brandeis University, Massachusetts
    Ralph A. Thaxton, Jr is Professor of Politics at Brandeis University and a Research Affiliate at the Harvard University John King Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies. He is the author of Catastrophe and Contention in Rural China (2008) and the winner of multiple international fellowships, including grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, and the United States Institute for Peace. Professor Thaxton has been a fellow at the Dartmouth College John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding and a distinguished Croxton Lecturer in the Amherst College Department of Political Science.

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