Drawing on county-level foreign trade archival documents, this article explores export production in the rural Pearl River delta during the 1960s and 1970s, focusing on the relationship between local foreign trade agencies and grassroots collectives in three counties. The study contends that, instead of the state having complete control of the entire production and procurement process, rural export production in the Pearl River delta demonstrates remarkable diversity and responsiveness to fluctuating overseas market conditions, whose adaptability, however, was significantly constrained by the grain-first policy during the Maoist era. This research further posits that the interplay between control and autonomy mechanisms shaped the institutional context in which rational, calculating Chinese peasants navigated the Maoist state. Notably, the state was not a monolithic entity, and its boundaries with the peasants were permeable and dynamic.

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