"Agents and Victims in South China" by Helen F.              Siu

Agents and Victims in South China Accomplices in Rural Revolution Helen F. Siu

Publication date:
29 Jul 1992
Yale University Press
402 pages: 235 x 156mm
33 b-w illus.

When peasants live in complex agrarian societies with distinct hierarchies of power, how much are they able to shape their world? In this socio-economic, political, and anthropological history, Helen F. Siu explores this question by examining a rural community in Guangdong Province from the late nineteenth century to the present.

"Agents and Victims contains numerous valuable insights into the triumphs and tragedies of the Communist revolution. It should be read by all who wish to understand the way in which the post-1949 state penetrated into geographical, political and cultural areas of the country that had been left virtually untouched by previous Chinese governments."?Graham Hutchings, Asian Affairs


"Agents and Victims is a good read that carries the reader through discussions of economic, ritual, and political structures of the district without losing the immediacy of the occasional anecdote or personal reflection. Ample documentation and the judicious use of statistical data to support the narrative adds to the book?s versatility. . . . Siu?s latest work enables those of us who were not there to begin to understand the political dilemmas of southern Chinese cadre and villagers during a revolutionary age."?Greg Guldin, American Anthropologist

"A major contribution in the effort to understand the transformation of peasant life in China. . . . This is a major work that should be on the shelf of any serious scholar of contemporary China, and also should be of interest to people concerned with the transformation of peasant villages and of state-society relations around the world."?Martin King Whyte, Pacific Affairs

"This sweeping historical analysis examines the economic and political transformation of a Chinese county during the past fifty years. It combines unique insights from difficult fieldwork . . . with skilled use of county archives, local gazetteers, and lineage genealogies. . . . Moreover, since her ultimate concern is with the nature of cultural and political hegemony in peasant societies and the ways in which the ruled conspired in creating the conditions of their own domination, her study will capture a broad interdisciplinary audience beyond the China field. . . . A compelling reconstruction of what Joseph Levenson once called ?Confucian China?s modern fate.?"?Susan Mann, American Historical Review

"An extremely impressive book, expertly researched, artfully written, and effectively argued. I look forward to a sequel."?David Norman Smith, Contemporary Sociology

"Combines fieldwork and archival research in a study of a rural community in the southeastern Chinese province of Guangdong; compares local patterns of political power before and after the 1949 revolution."?Chronicle of Higher Education

"Helen Siu?s excellent monograph traces the social, economic, cultural and political development of a community in the Pearl River Delta from its roots in the Song dynasty until today. She demonstrates remarkable familiarity with this community. . . . This rich knowledge of pre- and post-1949 events permits her to highlight continuity and change over many years. . . . Siu?s excellent discussion of the growth of rural enterprises?a topic of great significance today in China?enriches our understanding of how these firms affect people?s lives. She carefully documents the state?s role in promoting these enterprises. . . . Siu?s book is a must for all students of rural China. Her discussion of how entire lineages first settled on newly constructed fields in the sands and then, over decades, moved into the towns to become new local elites deserves special attention from sociologists and anthropologists outside the China field as well. Few authors traverse such broad historical ground with the depth and sensitivity of Helen Siu, and we are indebted to her for sharing this labor of love with us."?David Zweig, American Journal of Sociology

"This book presents an ambitious socio-economic, political, and anthropological history of Xinhui county in Guangdong Province. . . . Siu?s book stands out from the growing list of recent publications on the communist state in rural China because she provides a historical baseline from which to gauge the changes in the power relationships among the state, various rural elites, and ordinary peasants, and in the perceptions of power and legitimacy. . . . The historical approach is commendable."?Jean C. Oi, Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs

"A tour de force in its handling of data, and in its analysis of so wide a swathe of human endeavor."?Hugh R. Baker, SOAS

"[Siu?s] interests, research methods, sources, and conclusions are too extensive and varied to stay within the bounds of any one discipline. . . . In this important work, she brings her multidisciplinary skills to bear on some major questions of the Chinese revolution. . . . To make her case, Siu leans heavily on some ten years of field research she has conducted in southeast China, but she also has mined thoroughly the relevant primary, secondary, and theoretical literature. . . . She . . . introduces a fascinating series of paradoxes, pointing out how cadres and local peasants alike came to be both beneficiaries and victims of the revolution, and how the peasants were at the same time made to be accomplices in their own transformation; here the analysis is especially close, and the rewards of field research are particularly in evidence."?Michael Gasster, The Historian

"This study of peasant-state relations in the Pearl River delta is an important contribution to understanding of the organizational, ideological, and cultural means by which states and elites secure control over rural populations. . . . Few other local studies of rural China combine such historical depth with a solid grounding in ethnography or deal with so many different aspects of village life. Anyone wishing to understand recent rural changes in a historical context will find this book a valuable addition to their library."?Arthur Rosenbaum, History: Reviews of New Books

"An ambitious and demanding book. . . . After Sinor?s compelling introduction on the concept of inner Asia, Robert Taaffe writes clearly, helpfully, and summarily on the geographic setting. . . . It is an achievement of considerable historical importance not just that this book exists, but that its quality is so evenly high. . . . Siu?s strength is that she presents a richly detailed history of local leadership under a series of profound economic and political changes."? Journal of Asian Studies

"Agents and Victims gives us a sharp view into the triumphs and the tragedies of rural reform in southeast China. The human dimension is made vivid and immediate, and the historical sweep is bold. This is a fine book."?Jonathan Spence, Yale University

"This original and important study of local-level political change in southeastern China provides a fresh framework for understanding that country?s contemporary society."?Myron L. Cohen, Columbia University