Aminda M. Smith
's fascinating new book traces the history of transformations in the way that the PRC understood social control, deviance, and thought reform. Thought Reform and China's Dangerous Classes: Reeducation, Resistance, and the People
(Rowman and Littlefield, 2013) excavates the histories of thieves, prostitutes, and beggars from a wide range of letters, diaries, novels, films, memoirs, oral histories, media accounts, and classified government documents. Reintegrating vagrants into the history of reeducation changes how we understand the scope and nature of the Chinese Communist thought reform project. Smith takes us into the reeducation centers that served as laboratories where the rapidly changing ideas about the relationships between thought reform, labor, and individuals were worked out over the course of the early twentieth century. Taking readers from the countryside into urban centers and ultimately into Beijing, the book traces the emergence and metamorphosis of notions of the "People" over the course of this history, paying special attention to the central role that marginal figures of society played in definitions of this crucial concept. In addition to introducing some of the fascinating individuals that populate Smith's account, in the course of our conversation we also talked about the opportunities and challenges of accessing those stories from an archive of "official sources." Enjoy!