Skip to content
Register Sign in Wishlist

The Peasant in Postsocialist China
History, Politics, and Capitalism


  • Date Published: March 2015
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107544987

£ 22.99

Add to cart Add to wishlist

Other available formats:
Hardback, eBook

Looking for an inspection copy?

This title is not currently available on inspection

Product filter button
About the Authors
  • The role of the peasant in society has been fundamental throughout China's history, posing difficult, much-debated questions for Chinese modernity. Today, as China becomes an economic superpower, the issue continues to loom large. Can the peasantry be integrated into a new Chinese capitalism, or will it form an excluded and marginalized class? Alexander F. Day's highly original appraisal explores the role of the peasantry throughout Chinese history and its importance within the development of post-socialist-era politics. Examining the various ways in which the peasant is historicized, Day shows how different perceptions of the rural lie at the heart of the divergence of contemporary political stances and of new forms of social and political activism in China. Indispensable reading for all those wishing to understand Chinese history and politics, The Peasant in Postsocialist China is a new point of departure in the debate as to the nature of tomorrow's China.

    • The first comprehensive, historically informed look at reform-era Chinese debates on the role of the peasant
    • Radical appraisal of the development of reform-era Chinese intellectual politics
    • Demonstrates the centrality of the peasant to the contemporary Chinese perspective on Chinese history
    Read more

    Reviews & endorsements

    'Rural China, the source of the Chinese Revolution, has suffered marginalization, exploitation, and plunder under developmentalist reform policies since the 1990s, when the PRC leadership decisively embarked on a path of incorporation in global capitalism. In this well-researched and engaged study, Alexander F. Day critically analyzes the ideological debates occasioned by the 'agrarian question', and traces efforts by activists of various political stripes to resolve it. The 'underside' of the phenomenal so-called 'China model' is recognized widely, including by the regime itself, but is framed more often than not as a problem of sustained development. What makes this study unique and invaluable is bringing to light efforts to remedy it that also aspire to lend some credence to the regime's ritual claims to socialism.' Arif Dirlik, Liang Qichao Memorial Distinguished Visiting Professor, Tsinghua University, Beijing

    'Across the past century, Chinese thinkers and political activists have returned again and again to the figure of the peasant. Some have seen a figure of dependency and backwardness, awaiting liberation from 'the idiocy of rural life'. Others envision a figure of possibility: if rural energies can be mobilized for balanced development, then the Chinese economy will prosper, social justice will be achieved, and - most promising of all to some thinkers - China may yet open an alternative pathway to modernity more equitable than the one mapped by contemporary globalization and its theorists. Alexander F. Day brings a fine historical sensibility and a lucid political analysis to this study of an important, heated, and unresolved debate.' Gail Hershatter, University of California, Santa Cruz

    'In coverage and content, as well as in theoretical import, this book is the only one we have to date in English on the topic of the intellectual discussions on peasants in China's reform period. It will not only spawn a cottage industry in peasant studies in the US academy, it will undoubtedly become the point of reference for all other discussions of the 'Chinese development path' and global economics. Given China's centrality to the health and wealth of the world economy, Day's work is well positioned to have a major impact far beyond the China field.' Rebecca E. Karl, New York University

    'In this invaluable book, Day reminds us that despite China's unparalleled record of economic development over the past few decades, the figure of the peasant remains at the very centre of Chinese politics. The modernisation of rural communities and integration of the agricultural labour force into global markets has not only transformed Chinese society, but also challenged our understanding of the processes of economic and political development. Day's incisive summary of recent and contemporary intellectual debates about the role of the peasant in China's past, present, and future offers an invaluable corrective to those who assume that it is Chinese cities and their residents who have driven China into the future. Instead, Day's compelling analysis demonstrates that the persistence of the 'peasant problem' and its possible solutions may suggest alternative paths to a modernity not defined solely by the criterion of market efficiency.' Patricia M. Thornton, University of Oxford

    'At a time when many scholars blithely announce the end of peasant China, Alexander F. Day makes a strong case for the enduring centrality of the peasant, both as a topic of debate and as a real-life problem that may yet come to disrupt the political consensus of postsocialist China … What impressed me most in this study is the fact that academics of diverse ideological commitments managed, through fierce disagreement and impassioned debate, to shape public opinion and ultimately alter government policy in ways that benefited the rural population. This fine study should be read by everybody interested in rural China and in the role that public intellectuals play in contemporary China.' The Journal of Asian Studies

    See more reviews

    Customer reviews

    Not yet reviewed

    Be the first to review

    Review was not posted due to profanity


    , create a review

    (If you're not , sign out)

    Please enter the right captcha value
    Please enter a star rating.
    Your review must be a minimum of 12 words.

    How do you rate this item?


    Product details

    • Date Published: March 2015
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107544987
    • length: 242 pages
    • dimensions: 230 x 153 x 15 mm
    • weight: 0.35kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction: peasants, history, and politics
    1. The peasantry and social stagnation: the roots of the reform-era liberal narrative
    2. From peasant to citizen: liberal narratives on peasant dependency
    3. Capitalism and the peasant: new left narratives
    4. 'Deconstructing modernization': Wen Tiejun and 'Sannong wenti'
    5. Into the soil: ethnographies of social disintegration
    6. New rural reconstruction and the attempt to organize the peasantry

  • Author

    Alexander F. Day, Occidental College, Los Angeles
    Alexander F. Day is Assistant Professor of History at Occidental College. He grew up in Maine and New Zealand and has spent over five years in Asia, mostly in China. Professor Day's research focus is on the rural-urban relationship in China, focusing on the late-imperial period through the twentieth century; his second teaching field is world history. He is a member of the American Historical Association and the Association for Asian Studies.

Sorry, this resource is locked

Please register or sign in to request access. If you are having problems accessing these resources please email

Register Sign in
Please note that this file is password protected. You will be asked to input your password on the next screen.

» Proceed

You are now leaving the Cambridge University Press website. Your eBook purchase and download will be completed by our partner Please see the permission section of the catalogue page for details of the print & copy limits on our eBooks.

Continue ×

Continue ×

Continue ×
warning icon

Turn stock notifications on?

You must be signed in to your Cambridge account to turn product stock notifications on or off.

Sign in Create a Cambridge account arrow icon

Find content that relates to you

Join us online

This site uses cookies to improve your experience. Read more Close

Are you sure you want to delete your account?

This cannot be undone.


Thank you for your feedback which will help us improve our service.

If you requested a response, we will make sure to get back to you shortly.

Please fill in the required fields in your feedback submission.