In the 1960s and 1970s, the PRC state promoted the technological transformation of agriculture through a radical approach known as the "mass movement for scientific experiment." Grassroots "scientific experiment groups" were organized throughout the countryside on a "three-in-one" basis: "old peasants" with practical experience, "educated youth" with revolutionary zeal, and local cadres with correct political understanding were expected to work together to identify needs and develop solutions, to promote self-reliance, and to overturn "technocratic" approaches promoted by scientific elites and "capitalist roaders," instead placing "politics in command." In China today, agricultural reformers and food activists are connected to transnational networks and rarely evoke their Mao-era predecessors; however, their work resonates strongly with the ideas and values of that earlier era.
Through an examination of the food sovereignty, participatory action research, and indigenous knowledge movements, this paper traces the roots of contemporary Chinese food politics in the radical Maoist past.
The challenge is to accomplish a simultaneously transnational and diachronic account so as to recognize: first, that China in the Mao era was part of a larger world; second, that the politics of the Mao era continue to exert an important influence today, though in ways that are highly mediated and often transformed almost beyond recognition; and third, that, of the many transnational currents influential on contemporary China, some grew out of an earlier global political culture in which Maoism played a crucial role.
Speaker: Sigrid Schmalzer is Associate Professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.