The 1930s saw new research and extended debates over the nature of the countryside in China and its socio-economic and historical role. Those on different sides of these debates, many drawing on historical materialism, tended to recreate modernist assumptions. These included assumptions that history was unilinear, and that what was Western was also modern, universal, urban, and objective, while what was not Western was traditional, local, rural, and subjective. The modern nation state, made up of modern citizens, was the outcome of, and the active subject in, a progressive history.
Yet other approaches, focusing on the role of the countryside in China's development, challenged not only aspects of modernity but the assumptions in which the debates were couched. The philosopher and social activist Liang Shuming (1893–1988) focused on the countryside as the creative field in China. He envisioned a new form of community that, instead of the state, would be the active locus for change. Liang's new, village communities would draw on but not reproduce cultural traditions across a ruptured history and form the basis of a non-capitalist industrialisation. Rather than appropriate the dominant image of modernity, Liang revisited its basic assumptions. In so doing, he generated fresh visions, opening up a different set of possibilities and recasting the relation of the country to the city, the nation and the future.