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During the early 1980s China embarked on what can be seen as one of the world’s largest social experiments ever. Decollectivization meant much more than the reorganization of agricultural production into family based farming. It signalled significant changes to rural social relations, when privatization, marketization and increased geographical mobility started tearing apart the economic and social institutions that had structured collective village life under Mao.

The focus of this book is on how rural society has been reorganized in the 21st century. The first chapters outline the basic organizational structure of rural China and can be used as an introduction to the topic in a classroom setting. They show how the state and its social scientists draw up plans to overcome the perceived lack of rural social organization, and discuss the often problem-ridden implementation of their ideas. The second section presents case studies of institutions that organize key aspects of rural life: Boarding schools where rural children learn to accept organizational hierarchies; lineage organizations carving out new roles for themselves; “dragonhead enterprises” expected to organize agricultural production and support rural development, and several others. The book is of theoretical interest because of its focus on the re-embedding, or reintegration, of individuals into new types of collectivities, which are less predetermined by tradition and habit and more a matter of, at least perceived, individual choice. Most chapters are based on extensive fieldwork and contain vivid examples from daily life, which will make the book attractive to anyone who wants to understand how Chinese villagers experience the extraordinary social changes they are going through.

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