Fifty Years of Fanshen: One Chinese Village and Mao’s Rural Revolution

Friday, January 4, 2019: 2:30 PM
Wabash Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Brian James DeMare, Tulane University
In 1966 William Hinton, an American radical, finally secured publication of Fanshen This eye-witness “documentary” of revolution in one Chinese village declared “land reform is on the agenda of mankind.” Revisiting this Red Classic over five decades later, this paper explores the sources of Fanshen’s longevity as well as the wide-ranging impact of Hinton’s text for modern readings of land reform and Mao’s rural revolution. Despite Hinton’s insistence that he was independent from Communists control during his time in Long Bow, the village he made famous, he was in fact well managed by his friends in the Party. Hinton’s understanding of rural China and land reform, furthermore, were directly derived from the party’s metanarrative of revolution. As a result, Fanshen shares much of its structure, plot, and even characters with the novels and operas penned by party artists. Unlike those mostly forgotten works of propaganda, Fanshen has been translated into many languages and has enjoyed a sustained and global impact on popular imaginings of rural China. Shortly after its publication Harvard Magazine declared Fanshen one of the essential books on China, and today it remains a mainstay in course syllabi and textbooks. Hinton’s sophisticated literary devices produced a gripping morality tale populated by evil landlords and just peasants, a simplistic rendering of village China that was an ill-fit with rural realities. The popularity of the book also owed much to Hinton’s tireless promotion of himself as a China expert as he toured universities and emerged as a leading “friend of China.” This paper closes by considering how the special relationship village leaders forged with Hinton has emerged as a bedrock of Long Bow identities, especially when foreign visitors come in search of Hinton’s China.
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