- Paperback: 672 pages
- Publisher: Monthly Review Press (April 1, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1583671757
- ISBN-13: 978-1583671757
- Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.7 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 9 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #578,171 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Fanshen: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village
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Fanshen is an important book. . . . It is an arresting narrative [on] the agonizing story of rural China in turmoil…told with a remarkable evenness of temper and a rare understanding of human weaknesses and strengths. The lessons of Long Bow village, so movingly and compassionately recorded…should be studied and restudied by all.-C. T. Hsu,Saturday Review
Fanshen is an extraordinary book. It will dispose of many myths, both those of the Left and of the Right.-C. P. Fitzgerald,The Nation
A vivid and compelling ‘grass-roots’ account of life in the village precisely during the period in which the new Communist power was establishing itself. . . . [A] unique contribution to our understanding of life in a northern Chinese village on the eve of the Communist takeover.-Benjamin Schwartz,New York Times Book Review
One of the most important books about China which has been written since the Revolution. . . . For anyone who wants to understand anything important about the Chinese revolution of our time, the reading of this book is an absolute necessity.-Joseph Needham,London Tribune
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Top customer reviews
Eighteen years in the making, the book presents a revolutionary process of rich complexity, constructing a narrative with deep insight and revealing illustration that ranges beyond simple class and economic analysis into questions of organization, family, gender, sexuality, and human frailty, courage, discipline, and altruism.
Like the real work of revolution, the long narrative has its slow, grinding parts, but the book is punctuated with many moments of clarity, humor, and human recognition, and rewards the diligent reader immensely.
Contrary to the crude and invidious red-baiting review posted by Mr. Collins on this site, Hinton in fact takes great care to examine the violent excesses of the early days of the revolution in the village; indeed the latter half of the book is concerned precisely with the attempts of the community to come to terms with the initial violence and authoritarianism of the Communist Party members and cadres.
Hinton is an enthusiast for Chairman Mao and the communists, but he doesn't gloss over the excesses of the revolution. He paints a vivid picture of life in prerevolutionary China and an equally vivid picture of the implementation of Maoism in the countryside with all its violence, doctrinal hair-splitting, changes in direction, and imperfections. At the end of the book, he concludes that the peasants and the revolution have achieved a proper balance between equity and production in the Chinese countryside and presumably everyone will live happily ever after.
As a story about life in the countryside this book is outstanding. As a book about the makings of a revolution at the peasant level it is outstanding. As a book about land reform and Maoism, it is much, much less than prophetic. Hinton leaves us with a warm, post revolutionary feeling that all was well in the Chinese countryside in 1948. But all was not well. Tens of millions of Chinese peasants starved to death in the 1950s. Maybe they were spending too much time in revolutionary meetings and not enough time working in their fields. Revolutionary enthusiasts such as Hinton need to be called to account for the errors they make in their ardor and naivete. Perhaps we should have a meeting on that....
The peasants of Long Bow are poor - very poor. Ownership of an animal to help with the farm is considered a luxury. They are so poor that they do not use animals for manure - they use their own privies, the contents of which are highly valued. On top of this is a feudal system where a few own much of the land and do no work, while many of the peasants starve to death and undergo all kinds of trauma.
Enter the Eighth Route Army, the political leader of which is Mao Zedong. When the communists enter the picture, the desperate poverty of much of the population is swept away. Landlords can no longer sit in their fine clothes with long fingernails and have others do all work for them - they too must work for a living.
Of course, the transition does not go completely smoothly, as the famous Mao quote introducing chapter 14 states: "Revolution is not a dinner party...[it] is an uprising, an act of violence whereby one class overthrows another". Aside from the war with first the Japanese and then Chiang Kai-Shek and his US backers, there are the peasant excesses once the iron fist of the landlords and rich peasants fades away. Also hinted at here there are party excesses, as the party swerves from one position to another and then back again, confusing the peasants (and cadre) of Long Bow. While it's clear a confrontation, that obviously would be violent, was necessary with the landlords, it brings one to wonder what the hierarchical structure of the party would mean over the long term (or even the short term). I have begun reading Hinton's next book on Long Bow, Shenfan, covering the time period from this book to the Cultural Revolution, and he goes into more detail about such things.
Nonetheless, this is an inspiring story of how the peasants of China, with a little help from the communist party, helped throw off the yoke of feudalism (as well as Japanese, European and American imperialism) to launch the beginnings of the economic miracle that will probably result in China eventually becoming one of the most important industrial countries in the world.