This article explores the way PRC historians use analytical categories by looking at the emergence of a divide between production and the social reproduction of labor (all the work that goes into producing and raising laborers) that transformed and structured rural everyday life during the Mao period. Everyday life is historical, produced in different ways under different material conditions, structured and shaped by social forms in motion. Thus, it is not an analytical frame through which historians can view the real content of the Mao period underneath the thin veneer of Maoist high politics and its categories. This article therefore argues that everyday life, far from a sphere resisting the impositions and dictates of the state, is fully implicated in the political-economic structuring of society. This is a call to not simply replace an earlier social science focus on the political economy of the PRC with a bottom-up or empirical view of everyday life, recognizing that everyday life is already a structured terrain. Rather than bringing in social science analytical categories from the outside or searching for an empirical real view from below, we need to investigate the emergence of categories and social forms from the real material limits and tendencies of a rapidly changing PRC society.

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