This extensively researched and elegantly written study offers a fine-grained analysis of the origins of the Chinese Communist Revolution in the countryside. Building on decades of research in newly available sources and multiple trips to Jiangxi, Stephen Averill provides a definitive local perspective on the rise of a revolution that reshaped China and the world. A rich work of social history, it goes beyond recently popular organizational approaches to explore the ways in which the party and social networks interpenetrated and interacted in the early stages of revolutionary base-building.
The Jinggangshan highlands provided the base for Mao Zedong's first efforts at rural revolution. Chinese histories and most Western accounts have focused on the heroic exploits of Mao and his Communist Party comrades, battling the natural elements, hostile military forces, and skeptical authorities in the urban-based Communist Central Committee. This long-awaited work penetrates the hagiographic haze of Mao-centered analysis to provide a close narrative and rich social history of the Jinggangshan base. The author explores the historical patterns of local strongman rule, clientelist politics, lineage conflict, and ethnic struggle within which the party competed for power. Through this multifaceted lens, the revolutionary experience in Jinggangshan is equally dramatic but considerably more sobering than the conventional story.
Among Western studies of the Chinese revolution, this work stands out as the definitive account of the critical moment in the 1920s when the physical and ideological center of the Communist movement shifted from the cities to the countryside. This was a process of elite-mediated political osmosis and adaptive compromises with local traditions. The party was not simply an outside force manipulating social tensions for its own political ends. There was, instead, an intricate interweaving of local networks and social cleavages in the highlands with the political structures and policy divisions of t