Guest Lecture Series
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There's no better way to study Asia in the heartland of the United States than to listen to scholars, policy makers, business leaders and visitors who either are originally from Asia or spent months or years in the countries of Asia. The AWC Guest Lecture Series invites such people to share with us their life stories, academic research, teaching experiences and business concepts in Asia.
2009-2010 Guest Lecture Series
Topic: “The Chinese Peasant in Politics and Policy in Our Contemporary Global Moment.”
Alexander Day grew up in Maine and New Zealand, and has spent over five years in Asia, mostly in China. He received a B.A. from Colby College, Waterville, ME, in East Asian Studies and a Ph.D. in the history of modern East Asia with a research focus on modern China from the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 2007. His dissertation examines contemporary debates on China’s emerging rural crisis and its relationship to intellectual politics in the reform era (1979 to the present), putting these debates into historical perspective. Prof. Day’s second teaching field is world history. His research interests include the history of radicalism and populism, the politics of rural society and the rural-urban relationship, the connection between historical writing and politics, colonialism and anti-colonial movements, and transnationalism.
In the past couple of years half the world’s population became urban for the first time—a world historical milestone and a time for reflection on the place of the peasant within modernity. This global urbanization process, however, has not been smooth, but fraught with violence and powerful social response—we cannot assume its teleology. Home to the world’s largest rural population, China is a key site to investigate this transformation and how people react to and understand it.
This talk looks at the current conditions of the Chinese peasantry, the changing politics surrounding rural reform, and their relation to contemporary global economic situation. To their chagrin, modernizers find that they cannot succeed without the peasantry. Some try to drag the peasantry along with them into modernity. Some try to rethink modernization itself, under the conditions of global capitalism, and see in the peasant problem and its solutions a path to a different modernity than one subjected to the sole criterion of economic efficiency. Both kinds of modernizers are troubled by the figure of the peasant—no longer a vestige of history, soon to be absorbed into citizenship or industrialization, the peasant is the project.
This talk will first describe the rural reforms in China that began in the late 1970s and brought a return to household farming and then will proceed to a discuss ion on the stagnation in reform and crisis in the countryside from the mid-1990s on. This crisis stimulated both political debate (between the left, liberals, and neoliberals) and new policies from the state. Different positions will be marked out and descriptions about the new state policies will be presented arguing that this is a vital issue not just for the future of China’s peasantry, but also for reshaping the way China relates to the rest of the world.