Cooperatives and Rural Reconstruction in China in the 1930s: Lessons for the 21st Century

Date: 31 July 2009

Location: Wood Seminar Room at Old Kirk on Kelburn Campus of Victoria University

Speaker: Dr Pauline Keating, History Programme, Victoria University


Cohosted with Asian Studies Institute, Victoria University.

The seminar was held on 31 July 2009 at the Wood Seminar Room at Old Kirk on Kelburn Campus of Victoria University.

Early this century, a group of Chinese intellectuals and rural activists launched a "New Rural Reconstruction Movement"[xin xiangcun jianshe yundong 新乡村建设运动] to address what they see as a "social crisis" in contemporary rural China. They see the need for a reorganisation of rural social life on the basis of "culture and cooperative relations", and look to the old Rural Reconstruction Movement of the 1930s for inspiration.

Rural Reconstruction in the 1930s aimed for a cultural rejuvenation of the countryside by means of "mass education" programmes, and it promoted cooperative organizations that could drive rural development and democracy.

This paper examines the rural cooperatives experiments of the 1930s and gives particular attention to the complex interaction between state and village during a period when the state was relatively weak. It forms part of a broader study that asks why Chinese cooperatives failed in different places and in different phases of their 100‑year history, and when and why they worked.

The study of the 1930s is premised on the expectation that the early history of cooperatives in China provides insights into prospects for rural cooperation in the emerging “new China” of the 21st century.