Published online by Cambridge University Press: 03 May 2010
One of the many unresolved puzzles regarding the political system of the Maoist period, resolution of which may also provide a key to understanding the Dengist transformation of it, concerns the nature of grassroots political participation in the countryside and its relationship to the highly undemocratic character of the larger state and state-society relations. The puzzle has three parts. First, there persist in the literature on local politics and participation some rather contradictory findings and arguments: Local politics was lively and dead, participants were active and passive, participation was spontaneous and mobilized, genuine and ritualistic. Second, if there was some significant political participation, how can that be reconciled with the highly undemocratic nature of the state edifice that rested upon it? Third, how can that fit with what appears to be the very rapid collapse of direct participatory institutions and practices following Mao Zedong's death? Resolution of these conundra may help illuminate the nature of the Dengist state and reflect upon its prospects and those of China in the current period of crisis, in which the question of popular participation in politics has once again been thrust into the foreground.
THE DEBATE ON VILLAGE POLITICS AND PARTICIPATION
The first “view” concerning village politics and participation in China was actually a nonview. Scholarship during the 1950s and most of the 1960s simply did not pay attention to it. Like the sound of the tree that falls out of earshot, it did not exist.