The Rural Modern: Reconstructing the Self and State in Republican China

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Discussions of China's early twentieth-century modernization efforts tend to focus almost exclusively on cities, and the changes, both cultural and industrial, seen there. As a result, the communist peasant revolution appears as a decisive historical break. Kate Merkel-Hess corrects that misconception by demonstrating how crucial the countryside was for reformers in rural China long before the success of the communist revolution. In The Rural Modern, Merkel-Hess shows that Chinese reformers and intellectuals created a modernity that was not the foreign and new modernity of Shanghai and other cities, but instead one that captured the Chinese people's desire for an agenda for social and political change rooted in rural Chinese traditions and institutions. She traces efforts to remake village education, social and cultural life, economics, and politics, analyzing how these efforts contributed to a new, inclusive vision of rural Chinese political life. Merkel-Hess argues that as China sought to redefine itself politically and culturally, such rural reform efforts played a major role, and tensions that thus emerged between rural and urban ways deeply informed social relations, government policies, and subsequent efforts to create a modern nation during the communist period.

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The University of Chicago Press
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