Alternative responses to ‘the modern dream’: the resources and contradictions of Rural Reconstruction in China
PAN Jia’en and DU Jie (Translated by Matthew A. HALE)
Adopting the trope of ‘the modern dream,’ this essay sets aside the conventional ‘epic’ of modernization and gestures toward an alternative modernization based on the perspective of ‘sannong – the rural problem in three dimensions: village communities, agriculture and the peasantry.’ Modernization is a ‘dream’ not only because of the gap between its promise and reality, nor because of the physical and intellectual violence of colonialism and urban elitism hidden behind its ‘perfect’ and ‘neutral’ facade. The most illusory thing about modernization is the naïve, romantic attitude of its narrators: they and their audience both believe there is a homogeneous, pure modernization, so ‘reactions’ to the violent ‘impact’ of modernity should simply reproduce the latter without modification. If we return to the level of concrete history and complex reality, not only do the origins and propagation of modernization involve all kinds of political-economic appeals and conditions; reactions to modernization are full of ‘differences’ and tensions, with ‘simple reactions’ to the ‘impact’ modernity coexisting with ‘alternative responses.’
This essay attempts to complicate ‘Rural Reconstruction.’ Instead of the ‘objectified’ treatment of other studies, I ask: what does Rural Reconstruction contain or conceal? Setting aside the assessment of Rural Reconstruction’s ‘successes and failures,’ what are the movement’s central ‘dilemmas’? Further, under the telos of modernization (Kang 2008: 209), what resources do we have to forge an alternative path?
PAN Jia’en 潘家恩 is a Ph.D. student in the Cultural Studies Department at Lingnan University (Hong Kong) and executive director of the Green Ground Center for Urban-Rural Development (Beijing).
DU Jie 杜洁 is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Applied Social Science at Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
Matthew A. Hale is a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at the University of Washington.