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The rural people’s communes in Shandong province, 1958-1965 : a model of social and economic development Ma, Sen


This study examines the movement to establish and consolidate rural people's communes in China during the period 1958-1965. It concentrates on the development and consolidation of people's communes in the northern province of Shandong. The thesis argues that there are two trends in contemporary theories of Third World Development. One sees the development of Third World countries as a process of economic moves through adoption of advanced western technology and by the transformation of social institutions according to the features of ideal type of the western model. The other suggests that the development of Third World countries is not merely a process of economic growth, but is conditioned both by their respective historical backgrounds and the world-system. It is argued that China subscribes to the latter version of development theory. It is suggested that, historically, Chinese society followed a particular path of development. The western impact on China gradually brought about the disintegration of the traditional society. Chinese development strategy after 1949, especially after the establishment of the people's communes, is distinctive and differs not only from the dominant mode of development in China's past, but also from the modes in advanced societies of western Europe and North America, and the Third World in general. The people's commune is considered as possessing an identifiable structure and subject to a process of growth and change. Its development is seen as a response to basic economic realities and also, to an important degree, to human decision-making. It is argued that the commune system is at the center of China's strategy for rural development. Within the context of Shandong, the development of the people's commune is seen through an analysis of agricultural production, local industry, building of water conservancy, as well as changes in family institutions. The analysis of this study shows that the characteristics of the development of the people's communes during 1958-1965 manifest in two major aspects. First, development planning aims at resolving certain peasant problems which are a heritage of the traditional mode of economic development in China, and to fulfill modernization and some specific ideological goals. Secondly, the development of the people's communes helps to retain the traditional structure of rural community. The latter is essentially found in the features of self-control and self-sufficiency in political and economic life in the people's communes, and also in the development of human relations. The major sources of this study consist of documentary research, i.e., Chinese local and national newspapers of the period under study, and magazines of the same period. Interviews of émigrés were also used as supplementary sources.

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