Crimson Rain: Seven Centuries of Violence in a Chinese County
This brilliantly crafted narrative explores the roots of violence in Chinese rural society over the past seven hundred years, based on the study of a single highland county, Macheng, Hubei province, in the Great Divide Mountains separating the Yangzi valley from the North China Plain. Between the expulsion of the Mongols in the mid-fourteenth century and the invasion of the Japanese in 1938, Macheng experienced repeated, often self-inflicted waves of mass “extermination” of segments of its population. This book argues that, beyond its strategic military centrality and ingrained social tensions, cultural factors such as popular religion, folklore, collective memory, and local historical production played key roles in the continued proclivity of the county's population for massive carnage. In the process, the history of Macheng also provides a case study in the way events and trends of national significance in the history of China have been experienced at the local level.
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This is an excellent book. In outlining the relationship between three groups, government, elites and peasantry, the book establishes a framework for power legitimation and contestation. Taxes, religion, serfdom and confucian loyalty are areas where these relationships become contested. Loyalty can be invoked towards genealogies and/or dynasties and is an intriguing area, but the economic situation of the poor is perhaps the general touchstone. In any event, when the relationships break down terrible sectarian violence is the result.
The final section of the book on the Civil war during the republican period from the 1920's to 1949 puts the ferocity of the communists' conflict with the nationalists in a new light. As ever the reader is left wondering how much the dynamics of power in China have changed and how much they have stayed the same! In this respect the book places such present day issues as Tiananmen, the FalunGong and Tibet/Xinjiang in a new perspective.
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