In This Review

Force and Contention in Contemporary China: Memory and Resistance in the Long Shadow of the Catastrophic Past
Force and Contention in Contemporary China: Memory and Resistance in the Long Shadow of the Catastrophic Past
By Ralph A. Thaxton, Jj.
Cambridge University Press, 2016, 488 pp

Thaxton has been visiting a cluster of villages in a poor area of rural China for decades. Here, he reports that post-Mao reforms have only extended the official abuse that characterized life under Mao. The peasants’ view of local government is shaped by their memories of suffering during the famine of 1958–61, when local cadres forced them to comply with disastrous policies set by Beijing. Now they see a new generation of cadres exploiting ostensible reform policies to oppress them yet again, this time with unfair taxes, corruption, police abuse, inflated electricity prices, and election manipulation. The villagers fight back, ineffectively, with small acts of resistance and by petitioning to higher levels. But the problems are so deep that Thaxton discerns a “total loss of trust” in government, which could someday lead to armed rebellion, if the government showed signs of weakness. Whether things are this bad all over China is an open question. But Thaxton’s research casts a dark shadow over the sunny conventional wisdom about China’s rural reforms.