Arthur Henderson Smith, writing near the end of the previous century, characterized the Chinese village organization as “the self-government of the small communities” and asserted that “the management of the village was in the hands of the people themselves.” His enthusiasm was shared in varying degrees by other writers, both native and foreign. For good reasons, however, this encouraging view is no longer supported by students of Chinese society. Among other shortcomings, it ignored the existence of a considerable number of tiny villages, especially in north China, and the fact that the inhabitants of such villages were usually too impoverished to be able to afford organization.

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