Based on a combination of field and archival research, Jacob Eyferth's new study aims to “chart the twentieth-century history of a community of rural artisans” (p. 1), the titular papermakers of Jiajiang County in western Sichuan. The book promises coverage of an eighty-year span, but it is strongest on the period of the People's Republic, particularly the transition of the rural economy since the 1970s.

The central argument of the book concerns the “de-skilling” of the rural handicraft industry under socialism. Captivated by a desire to restructure the countryside, policy makers and technocrats progressively handicapped rural industries, turning skilled laborers into grain-producing peasants and enforcing a new divide between city and countryside. The dismantling of paper production had disastrous repercussions, not merely economic, on the elaborate social infrastructure of the papermaking industry.

The early chapters establish something of a baseline of presocialist production, albeit one that is never firmly set...

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