AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 123

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Session 123: Learning from Long Bow: Research and Reflections on One Chinese Village

Organizer: Brian J. DeMare, Tulane University, USA

Chair: Carma Hinton, George Mason University, USA

Discussant: Carma Hinton, George Mason University, USA

In 1947, William Hinton accompanied a land reform work team to a village he dubbed Long Bow, an unremarkable hamlet in southwest Shanxi province. His experiences in the countryside eventually formed the basis for his Fanshen, a text that would heavily influence how subsequent generations would understand rural China, in effect making Long Bow synonymous with village China. In recent years, a new wave of scholars has revisited Long Bow, intrigued both by the village’s unique past as well as its openness to outside researchers. Long Bow’s extended engagement with scholars, we argue, has created a unique store of information, allowing long term investigations into vital topics in contemporary Chinese studies. This panel brings together a diverse range of this scholarship, examining Long Bow through the methodologies of history, anthropology, and political science. Our papers will investigate various aspects of village life, examining Long Bow’s cultural practices, hygienic models, ideological frameworks, and the very memories villagers hold of themselves and Long Bow as a place. Critically, this panel will consider how this new research deepens our understanding of Long Bow and rural China, as well as reflect on Long Bow’s place in academia.

A Village Scribe's Work: Making Memories of Long Bow in the Cultural Revolution
Daniel Husman, University of California, Berkeley, USA

Li Anhe, now-retired Long Bow village scribe, keen guardian of village memory, and participant in tumultuous events during the Cultural Revolution, decided in his retirement to write down his version of what happened in the dramatic year of 1966-1967. Based primarily on that remarkable document and interviews with the author, this paper explores the history of Long Bow in the Cultural Revolution and the nature of memory in contemporary China. Li's writing is a record of events that, although now remote in time, continue to shape experience in Long Bow. Given the label “The Black Pen” by his accusers in Long Bow's Cultural Revolution struggle sessions, Li today seeks to set the record straight via his version of an accurate historical accounting. His story can thus be interpreted both to better understand the events of that time, and, more crucially, to understand how and why the past is remembered in China today. Narrating Long Bow's history is, from this perspective, thus always a comment on the present and an ongoing struggle to create meaning.

Liberation, Production, and Reproduction: Introducing Western Methods of Delivery to Long Bow Village in the 1950s
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When the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took over China in 1949, the Party’s ambition was far more than building an egalitarian society through land redistribution. The Party envisioned the transformation of China into a politically democratic, economically prosperous, and culturally enlightened society. The CCP’s rural midwifery reform campaign, which aimed to introduce hygienic and safer Western delivery methods, was the one of key programs to actualize the Party’s vision of New China. According to the Party, introducing hygienic and scientific delivery methods would liberate women, the most suppressed group in “old feudal society,” from the physical suffering and health damages associated with childbirth and from the superstitions and conventional beliefs that had oppressed barren and pregnant women. The CCP even believed that they could empower young daughter-in-laws within their families by helping them to produce healthy children. This paper examines what kind of problems the CCP had to confront when the Party put its reform ideals to practice and how these problems limited and reshaped the ideological goals and practice of the reform. In terms of research, this paper relied on cases from Long Bow village and its surrounding areas in southern Shanxi province during the 1950s. The main sources of this paper are archival materials from the Shanxi Provincial Archives and Changzhi Municipal Archives, as well as interviews with local village women, doctors, and midwives.

Social Education and Transformation of Chinese Peasant Mentalité in the Collectivization Era:A Case Study of Long Bow Village
Hongqin Deng, Independent Scholar, China

While the Chinese peasantry was the critical force in China’s communist revolution and state-building project, this did not mean that Chinese peasants' ways of organizing production, living habits, ideology, or daily practice proved to be an easy fit with the Chinese Communist Party’s expectations. In many cases, traditional village ways were in clear conflict with state demands. This was first seen during the push to centralize resources in wartime, but conflict between peasants and the state continued as a socialist society was constructed in the post-war era. In order to obtain peasant support, encourage villagers to identify with a nationalist political ideology, and actively participate in the revolution, the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) carried out constant education and propaganda at the village level. This paper will investigate this local education and propaganda, under the rubric of “social education,” with Shanxi’s Long Bow village as a case study. Through positive application of propaganda and education, the peasants of Longbow village learned, recognized, and eventually accepted a new national ideology. Social education, this paper argues, was essential in achieving in transforming peasant mentalité and thus eliminating many points of conflict between peasants and the state.

Acting for the State: Cultural Performance in Changzhi’s Long Bow Village
Brian J. DeMare, Tulane University, USA

Shanxi’s Changzhi region has a long and rich tradition of cultural performance, a tradition most notable for its various styles of local opera, staged by professional and amateur dramatists alike. This legacy, however, was severely tested during the revolutionary era, when the Communist regime increasingly insisted on total control over the cultural realm. The state’s push for control started modestly, with the revision of traditional performances and reorganization of established drama troupes. Eventually, however, the PRC regime would impost the strictest of limits on both dramatists and their craft, severely curtailing the limits of cultural performance at the village level. Could rural culture, as always so firmly rooted in local traditions, resist the demands of the state and its agents? This paper investigates this question through a focus on the state-orchestrated politicalization of village culture, specifically the performing arts as practiced in Changzhi’s Long Bow village. Drawing on gazetteers, memoirs, and interviews with local dramatists, this paper argues that local culture was a sphere of negotiation between the PRC state and rural society, where the dictates of entertainment mollified the political messages demanded by the state. At the same time, engaging in cultural performance allowed local dramatists freedoms unavailable to the vast majority of village residents, including freedom from the political dramas they acted on stage on behalf of the state.