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Resilient Small Peasants: Historical Continuity and Modern Transformation—The Energy and Autonomous Responsibility of Small Peasants in China

Social Sciences in China (Chinese Edition)

No.12, 2019

 

Resilient Small Peasants: Historical Continuity and Modern Transformation—The Energy and Autonomous Responsibility of Small Peasants in China

(Abstract)

 

Chen Junya

 

China has a particularly long history of small-peasant production based on the family serving as the basic production unit. Its basic condition was that of a large country of small peasants. How to understand and deal with the small peasants in the course of transition from traditional agricultural society to modern industrial society is a significant theoretical and practical issue. Previous views emphasized the vulnerability of the small peasants and suggested that they would eventually be replaced by other business entities. Such proposals have a certain rationality, but cannot explain the fact that it was traditional small peasants who created most flourishing agrarian civilization ever, and that it is the small farming household based on the household contract responsibility system that has become the main force in China’s agricultural modernization and has driven the development of modern agriculture in China. Re-examining the historical position and vigor of small peasants, we can see that although they are vulnerable, they have shown that they are “fragile but unbreakable; weak but not indolent” in their interaction with the external environment; they have displayed a strong dynamism, especially under various pressures. Historically, this kind of resilience has been endogenous within the long-term autonomous responsibility mechanism of China’s small peasants, expressed in their reciprocal responsibility as a community of destiny; in their sharing of burdens as a community of life; in their internalization of responsibility as a community of production; and in their joint responsibility as a political community. After 1949, rural reform created conditions for the modern transformation and rejuvenation of the resilient small peasants. Organization, socialization and nationalization have further enhanced modern peasants’ resilience and developmental ability, fueling the organic integration of small peasants and modern agriculture and promoting agricultural modernization.