AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 576

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Session 576: Rural Chinese Governance

Organizer: Jonathan Unger, Australian National University, Australia

Chair: Terry Sicular, University of Western Ontario, Canada

Discussant: Ralph A. Thaxton, Brandeis University, USA

Relatively few scholars conduct on-site research in China’s countryside to examine rural governance and state-society relations. This panel brings together six academics from five countries who engage in such research – two political scientists, two economists, and two sociologists. Wen Tiejun, one of the PRC’s preeminent academic specialists on rural China, examines the macro-environment in which rural governance operates - and based on his fieldwork experience, he discusses the crises that developed at local levels. Lior Rosenberg, a Doctoral student from Israel at the Australian National University who has conducted research inside two counties in Shandong and Anhui, focuses on the discretion left to local governments in handling the central government’s major current rural program, and shows how the program is very differently implemented in the two counties’ villages, with what consequences. Li Lianjiang, a political scientist based in Hong Kong, examines rural society-state relations, focusing on the popular trust felt by farmers toward different levels of government in the wake of the abolition of agricultural taxes. Jonathan Unger, a sociologist in Australia, examines rural governance at the grassroots within villager small groups, focusing on periodic reallocations of agricultural land by popular consent, and the implications for villager-local state relations. Terry Sicular (she’s an economist who specializes in rural China) will Chair, and Ralph Thaxton, a political scientist who is researching a book on rural Henan governance, will serve as Discussant.

China’s Macro-economic Fluctuations and the Rural “Governance Crisis”
Tiejun Wen, Independent Scholar, China

The problems of agricultural security, rural sustainability, and rights of peasantry are highly correlated with rural governance on three levels (village, township, county). They are in a contradictory relationship. Since the economic reforms began 30 years ago, as the macro-economic cycles have shortened three rounds of “governance crisis” have occurred in rural China. The main cause has been institutional costs. “De-organized” individual peasants were not capable of providing enough surplus to support increasingly large rural government structures.

Villages’ Reconstruction: Between Targets, Standards, and Grass-Roots Investments
Lior Rosenberg, Australian National University, Australia

In 2006 the Chinese government announced a broad-based program for the Construction of a New Socialist Countryside. This paper will focus on one aspect of this national policy - the physical reconstruction of villages. Based on on-site fieldwork in two counties in Shandong and Anhui, the paper will present two very different models of implementation that have been carried out, and will discuss the implications for the larger issue of inequality reduction in China.

The Abolition of Agricultural Taxes and Its Impact on Political Trust in China
Lianjiang Li, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Using a two-wave local survey, this paper examines how the abolition of agricultural taxes affects farmers' trust in the central, provincial, county, township, and village party committees. It also explores how fluctuations of popular trust in the different levels of political authority may affect farmers' rights consciousness.

Illicit Redistributions of Agricultural Land through Community Consensus
Jonathan Unger, Australian National University, Australia

Many of China's villages have engaged in periodic reallocations of fields in order to re-equalize household landholdings on a per capita basis, despite a national law that prohibits this. Based on interview transcripts and a recent questionnaire survey of more than 600 villager small groups (former production teams) in Anhui province, this paper examines which types of villages most often engage in such land reallocations, and why. It also discusses the implications for village small group/village/township government relations.