Learning to Be Rational: Peasants’ Responses to Marketization in Fenghuang

  • Chih-yu Shih


How rational peasants are, as opposed to their concern over justice and moral duty, is a long-standing issue of debate.1 It is no surprise that the market reform in China since 1979 has incurred similar discussions on the rational peasant.2 To what extent peasants are economically rational affects the judgment as to what motivates their seemingly social behavior. On one hand, there is the view that rational peasants continue to participate in the collective economic entity in order to avoid the risk of uncertainty generated by the arrival of the market economy.3 From the rational peasant point of view, therefore, collectivism does not explain peasant behavior. It is an outcome rather than a cause that is to be explained by peasants’ rational calculation. Collectivism is the condition of production to which peasants willingly subscribe to defend competition.


Policy Incentive Prefecture Government Market Culture Peasant Worker Village Cadre 
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  1. 1.
    James C. Scott, The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Subsistence and Rebellion in Southeast Asia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For more discussion, see Daniel Little, Understanding Peasant China: Case Studies in the Philosophy of Social Science (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989).Google Scholar
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    For more discussion, see Jean Oi, “Rational Choice and Attainment of Wealth and Power in the Countryside,” in Chinas Quiet Revolution: New Interactions between State and Society, ed. D. Goodman and B. Hooper, 64–79 (New York: St. Martin, 1994);Google Scholar
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    See Tang Chou, “Back from the Brink of Revolutionary-‘Feudal’ Totalitarianism,” in State and Society in Contemporary China, ed. D. Mozingo and V. Nee, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983), 53–88. Also, Fong Hsiaw-chian’s “Exchange Structure and Property-Rights Patterns in Sunan and Wenzhou,” Mainland China Studies 45, no. 4 (2002, 7–8):1–13;Google Scholar
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    This undecidability is not unlike the argument about the agency of the weak to make use of the situation or the ideology imposed upon them for their own needs, which shift across situations. See more discussion in James C. Scott, Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1985).Google Scholar

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© Chih-yu Shih 2007

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  • Chih-yu Shih

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