Sigrid Schmalzer’s fascinating new book, Red Revolution, Green Revolution, provides a rare account of the philosophy, the achievements, and the actors of an agricultural transformation. This development, which occurred in China during the 1960s and 1970s, often has been referred to as China’s Green Revolution; however, as Schmalzer shows, “scientific farming” (科学种田), as the campaign was officially named, was distinctly different from the purely technocratic approaches that were applied in countries supported by Western development aid.

The term Green Revolution was first used around 1968 by William Gaud, director of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), as a description of the modernization of traditional agriculture by introducing high-yield grain varieties, agrochemicals, and mechanization. In a speech on USAID’s efforts to support agricultural productivity in developing countries, he said: “These and other developments in the field of agriculture contain...

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