Reconstructing the Self and State in Republican China
University of Chicago Press 2016
Kate Merkel-Hess's new book looks closely at a loose group of rural reformers in 1920s and 1930s China who were trying to create a rural alternative to urban modernity. Focusing on the Rural Reconstruction Movement of roughly 1933-1937, The Rural Modern: Reconstructing the Self and State in Republican China (University of Chicago Press, 2016) argues that the Communists were neither the first nor the only group of urban intellectuals to look to the villages as the foundation of a new nation. The book demonstrates that rural reconstruction was not a failure: the efforts that Merkel-Hess describes to generate a rural version of Chinese modernity established an important precedent that has reverberated through modern Chinese history. Along the way, it introduces some fascinating documents in the course of its analysis, including primers and pamphlets aimed at popular readers that promoted the vision that literacy was a basis for self-transformation, self-discipline, and modern citizenship. The conclusion of the book considers how the approaches and values of a late turn to developmentalism were picked up in the postwar period. Highly recommended!