RED EARTH: REVOLUTION IN A SICHUAN VILLAGE
My thanks are due to the peasant families of MaGaoqiao whose friendship and kindness have allowed me to know what it has meant to live on the great western plain of Sichuan province in the first generation after the land revolution of the 1950s.
Over a period of six months in 1980-1, 1983-4, and in the summer of 1986 and the spring of 1988 the villagers took me into their homes, invited me to their celebrations, answered my countless questions about their economy, politics and life-cycle customs. They made me feel part of a collective experience that has intrigued much of the rest of the world for what it may say about the human condition, about new ways of fulfilling life's possibilities in an ancient civilization.
This account of rural revolution begins with the recollections of those who lived the first half of their lives in the warlord and republican eras before 1949. These were years when China was engulfed in warlord rivalries, imperialist invasions, the war against Japan (1937-1945) and two major civil wars between the Nationalists and the Communists for the right to rule the country. This was the generation of men and women who were young adults when men on horseback brought the revolution to the village. As they found a new revolutionary identity they joined in, dispossessed the landlords and divided the land among the poor in the years 1950-2.
The story is continued into the 1980s by the middle-aged and younger villagers who inherited the establishment of Red Power. Under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party they took part in unprecedented efforts aimed at consciously redefining social relations and reshaping the political and economic institutions of the village.
These efforts went in stages, advancing and then retreating like the ebb and flow of the tide, with so many revolutionary mass movements and
rectifications that no villager could keep an accurate count. But they were not the kind of experience that could be easily forgotten or ignored either, since by and large there were no mere spectators in this drama
After the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 and the assumption of leadership by Deng Xiaoping, new directions came to the village, this time through bureaucratic channels, and the search for a socialist identity continues.
The results of my research are mainly arranged chronologically, until the last four chapters, which are thematic dealing with health care, education, women's emancipation and social customs related to the life-cycle of birth, marriage and death.
Like the homing pigeons Sichuanese love to raise in their spare time, I went back to the southwest of China partly because of early training, family associations and childhood memories. Sichuan was the place where my parents, and before them my paternal grandparents, had gone from Canada to strike roots as Christian missionaries. "There is awful significance in...the great millions dying in darkness," my grandfather, James Endicott, had written to a classmate in the 1890s. Later, after 1925 when my father and mother followed in the same footsteps for twenty-two years, they discovered that China was in the throes of one of the greatest revolutions the world had ever seen. Eventually both of these generations came to accept the novel idea that the best person to lead China was a Communist by the name of Mao Zedong, and they became warm friends of the People's Republic established in 1949.
Many years later when I had the rare opportunity to spend a sabbatical in Sichuan in 1980 (followed by a five-month trip for field research in 1983-4 and several more weeks in 1986 and 1988), I was naturally quite excited by several features of
the experience: the chance to make a modest contribution to China's current modernization programme by teaching English at Sichuan University; the time to improve an unused Chinese language ability; the desire to take my artist wife, Lena, to visit the memory-filled houses in Chongqing, Chengdu, Leshan and Mount Emei where I had lived for thirteen childhood years, to discover friends and colleagues of my parents in order to catch up on forty years, to see what remained and what was changed in the towns and villages, how the attitutdes of the people and their ways of living had altered after four decades of revolution. Twice I had been to China briefly during the heady years of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), and after a decade of reflecting on and teaching Chinese history and politics at York University in Toronto, I had a strong professional interest in gaining some new, first-hand knowledge of the course of China's socialist experiment.
Since the focus of my interest was the countryside, where almost 85 per cent of China's people live and work on the land, I requested permission to gather material for the purpose of writing a history of one of the villages in a people's commune.
Without the assistance of the Ministry of Education, the provincial Foreign Affairs Office and Sichuan University in arranging for me to go to the countryside and without the help in translations and statistical analysis of Guan Yaping, Li Guolin, Shi Jian, Zhao Xiaoxue, Zhang Changwen, Zhao Huaisun, Wang Hongjun and Li Xiaoxiong of that university, who at different times joined me as a small research team, this project would have been impossible. While these friends are not responsible for the shortcomings of this book, much of whatever success it has belongs to them.
I owe a special debt to others in the countryside as well, to the leaders of the People's Commune in Junction Township for providing a room, meals and briefings, and to the Shifang county government for accommodation and statistics concerning thirty years of the collectivized, socialist experiment in agriculture.
Historical novels by Chen Yuantsung, Chou Lipo and Hao Ran helped to inspire this book as did the reporting of my friends David and Isobel Crook, Jan Myrdal and William Hinton, and others too, whose perspective I may not share but whose search for the realities of modern China I respect and to whom reference is made in the end notes. I particularly thank Sharon Hare for her assistance in statistical analysis, and Audrey Mills Douglas, Carl Dow, Lena Wilson Endicott, William Hinton, Kate Gill Kemper, Jeanne Keresztesi, Diana Lary, Mark Seldon and Donald Willmott for their helpful comments on earlier drafts.
Finally, my thanks to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for financial support and to Atkinson College, York University, for the possibility of spending extended periods away from my teaching duties in the department of history.