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Community Conflicts and New Power Relations: Preliminary Analysis of 196 Letters from Farmers


Zhao Shukai

Reform has brought about profound changes to the rudimentary power structure of villages. The power of community cadres is no longer involved in direct production and operation fields and their capability to control resources is largely reduced. Meantime, rural households and farmers have gained relatively independent rights over resources and operation. It should be pointed out that such a change in power relations brought by institutional reform has enabled farmers’ not to totally follow cadres’ instructions and also reduced the incidents of conflicts between farmers and cadres. Against the big social picture, it can be said that economic growth and social progress over the last two decades have laid a sufficient material basis for such relations to move toward coordination and intimacy. However, viewing from reality, such a logical improvement in relations between community organizations and farmers has not yet fully realized. In contrary, distrust between the two parties has increased, various forms of conflicts have exacerbated, and in some villages there have appeared disturbingly vicious conflicts. We call these conflicts community conflicts. This article is basically intended to illustrate the general laws relating to conflicts in current rural communities via analysis of letters from farmers. The major issues are: what are the reasons of conflicts, how they have broken out and evolved, how farmers have built up their political awareness through the conflicts, and what are the profound impacts imposed by the conflicts on constructing new power relations among rural communities. We believe that increased conflicts among rural communities, while affecting the stability and order of rural society, have also provided crucial historical opportunities conducive to promoting political modernization in rural areas. Conflicts would lead to institutional changes and contribute to political development in rural areas. Two factors can explain farmers’ indifference towards political life. Firstly, farmers see no hope in reality and feel rather incapable of doing what they want to do; secondly, they lack professional training. In face of difficulties and exploitation in the past, what farmers first thought of was to seek protection from social forces and honest and upright officials. Thus, they usually rebelled against corrupt officials rather than emperors because the latter was their last hope. If there was no way out, farmers would make a reckless move. In rural areas China did not have the traditional mechanism to address issues through self-governance. This feature is quite prominent compared with rural self-governance in Western countries such as Britain and France in history. Since entry into modern society, including the past few decades after the founding of new China, farmers have not gained the initiative to participate in political life and the construction of grassroots democracy. When people’s communes made individual interests become comparatively independent and enabled farmers to develop the need to enrich democratic participation, they could find no source leading to more democracy, Many farmers felt dissatisfied and distressed and their passion only met with indifference. Therefore, the first thing we should do now is to mobilize farmers’ political zeal, organize them to participate in political life actively, and guide them to actively take a part in community management through institutional construction. We should cultivate an institutionalized grassroots democracy as a way of life and realize harmony among power relations within the community through farmers’ active participation and supervision. Although farmers boast a large number, they lack the power to negotiate. This is due to the ineffective guidance, and the society has not created favorable institutional and organizational space for them. When we review those old days, farmers had a strong demand on land and also had huge potential to strive for land. It was due to the mobilization and organization of the Communist Party that individual and powerless farmers became the main force to obtain land from landlords and political power from the Nationalist Party. Just as farmers have created huge economic growth for China’s rural areas, they would as well greatly promote political development in China’s rural areas. The government is facing a challenge of whether it could timely, actively and forcefully respond and give guidance to such a creation of farmers. Currently, many local governments have made pilot practice in making village affairs known to all and realizing democratic supervision.


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