This dissertation traces the interlocking problems of remembering the past, acting in the present, and imagining the future in the village of Long Bow, Shanxi Province. In 2008-09, I lived for eleven months in the house of the former village Communist Party Secretary while I collected the life histories of sixty-two informants, representing a diversity of ages, genders, and economic backgrounds. I also did further in-depth interviews with twenty-five of these informants, observed daily life in the village, studied village government and local Communist Party branch archives, and collected demographic and economic data on the village.
I investigate how the past is socially produced and reproduced and how historical representations are invested with political and ethical significance. Close attention to narratives of the socialist past in contemporary Chinese society reveals how the political idiom of the communist revolution continues to be powerful in a context of rapid social and economic change. Contemporary China presents a paradoxical combination of neoliberal economic policies with a political imaginary that still draws deeply on the memory of the Maoist past. In this context, I argue that China is experiencing a crisis of historical representation, wherein the question of how to bring the past to bear on the present and future has become highly problematic and politically charged. My dissertation explores this crisis as it is manifested in memory practices in Long Bow, especially as they inform the micro politics and ethics of daily life.
Long Bow was chosen as the site for this ethnographic study because of the special relationship it has to its own past. The village was the site of William Hinton's firsthand account of the late-1940s Land Reform movement, Fanshen, a classic of rural anthropology, Chinese historiography, and the history of ideology and socialist revolution. Because of the influence of that document and its author, Long Bow has a complex relationship to its own history. I show how memories of the collectivist past in Long Bow inform the local understanding of the social changes and national discourses of the Reform Era. Furthermore, I explore how memories of the Mao Era are invoked in local politics, and how narratives of the past constitute a crucial resource for the construction of authority and resistance. I trace these themes in various forms--local museums and memorials, home construction, oral history, and farm labor.
I understand memory to be the form of the past as it is experienced in the present. This perspective on memory opens up possibilities for seeing how situated, everyday practices enact a collective historical consciousness. In this sense, the particular memory practices of Long Bow village can be a lens for understanding the linked problems of history and national identity in contemporary China more widely. Attending to the construction, narration, and politicization of history and memory at the micro level of the village illuminates processes of the formation of national ideology and the dynamic links between local and national discourses.