Most Local Studies of the “revolution“in pre-1949 China have focused on Communist successes and failures during the 1930s and 1940s in the base areas of north and central China. It seems obvious, however, that in its more complete meaning the Chinese revolution in this century has been more than the story of Communist Party fortunes. On the national level, it has been the process of casting off politically enervated and/or discredited systems (the imperial, warlord, and Republican) and moving toward the vision of a fundamentally new state and society. The first major blow in this process was the abolition in 1905 of the civil service system that had served as the foundation for the political and social structure of traditional China. The revolution, which has often focused on struggles for political power and prerogative, has continued throughout the country in a number of phases, with varying actors, agendas, timing, and dynamics. Like a war made up of innumerable engagements, it has been a congeries of countless local revolutions, some only loosely linked to national-level goals. If, as a recent work put it, “[a] new generation of scholarship is emerging [in the study of the Chinese revolution] which promises to resolve old debates, bridge old dichotomies, and join formerly separate strands of analysis” (Hartford and Goldstein 1989:3), then it must take into account the larger chronological sweep of the revolution at the same time it burrows deeply into its local bases. This essay is an exploration of the contours of revolutionary change in the half-century from 1900 to 1950 in Xiaoshan County, Zhejiang Province, a county in the Lower Yangzi region that was for most of this period in the Guomindang, not the Communist sphere (map 1).

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