Rural electrification and population control have as much to do with technology as they do with politics. This leads to the question of whether technological or political change was more revolutionary in the Chinese countryside since 1949? Which type of change had a more lasting impact? Official class status labels are gone, but the lights are still on. Of course, technology and politics are intertwined and cannot be examined in isolation from one another, but scholars have tended to overemphasize politics (阶级斗争、政治运动、阶级成份) while overlooking other forms of transformation that brought fundamental changes to the countryside. I suspect that this is because the Chinese Communist Party’s own emphasis on politics has been so prominent, especially during the Mao years. Yet every noisy political treatise was matched by quietly distributed manuals about how to operate machines or apply pesticides. Eagerly reading materials about political campaigns while ignoring dry technical manuals leads to an unbalanced view of what was so revolutionary about the Chinese revolution in the countryside. It reveals more about the scholar than it does about the society he or she is studying.
Transcript of conference presentation delivered in Chinese.
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