Make a living: agriculture, industry and commerce in Eastern Hebei, 1870-1937

Date
1998
Authors
Wang, Fuming
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Abstract

The existing scholarship on Chinese agricultural history and peasant economy always portrayed Chinese peasants as cultivators and equated agricultural commercialization as cash crop growing. Based on the field surveys made by the Chinese and Japanese investigators in the 1930s, this dissertation tries to correct the over-simplification of the Chinese peasant economy and describe how the peasants in Eastern Hebei made a living by a combination of agriculture, industry and commerce. By examining the ecosystem and calculating the grain production and consumption, it is found that the returns from farming were not even enough for the peasants own consumption. Eastern Hebei was a grain shortage area and the peasants there had to engage in non-farming activities to supplement their income and support their families.;Besides engaging in traditional sideline production, the peasants in Eastern Hebei took the opportunities provided by the development of domestic and international trade and produced on a large scale for outside markets. The bristle processing in Fengrun county, paper making in Qian-an county and handicraft weaving in Baodi county are selected to show the importance of rural industry in the peasant economy in Eastern Hebei. This study also finds that in the modern period, either forced by survival pressure or attracted by outside opportunity, more and more peasants in Eastern Hebei left their villages and found temporary or permanent jobs in the outside world. The causes and consequences of the large scale emigrating-"going to Manchuria"- are discussed in detail to show the importance of non-farming income in the peasant economy.;The 1930s witnessed increases in state taxation, the civil war, the Japanese invasion and the world economic depression. These developments are discussed in terms of impact upon the peasants of the villages under consideration. It is found that it was harder for the peasants to make a living in that period. In conclusion, this study supports Fei Xiaotong's argument that it was impossible for Chinese peasants to make a living on farming alone and the final solution forChina's agrarian problem was diffused rural industrialization.

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History, Agricultural history and rural studies
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