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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Politics and State Building at the Grassroots: County Governance Practices in the 1950s
2: Northern Interrogators, Local Suspects: Language and Place in the Archives
Thursday, March 25, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
Tulane University, United States
In the late spring of 1949, the Second Field Army of the People’s Liberation Army crossed the Yangtze River and streamed into northern Jiangxi Province. Alongside these soldiers marched a second column, composed of cadres from northern China. These cadres brought with them plans for party and government organizations at every level of power in Jiangxi. These plans brought the Communist state into local communities in ways that far surpassed the state-building projects of previous governments. This paper explores the interactions between northern cadres and Jiangxi locals through the records left behind in one county archive. As I argue, understanding grassroots reality is greatly complicated by the fact that nearly all the documents in question were created by non-locals. Their outsider status can be seen in the very language of the archive, most notably in the disjunction in how northerners and locals referred to Jiangxi communities. Locals preferred actual place names, while northern cadres relied on a numerical administrative system. This paper first traces the origins of these northern cadres, focusing on revolutionaries from the far north who found themselves making revolution in unfamiliar terrain. This is followed by an analysis of the evolution of the early PRC administrative system, tracing its roots back to the baojia system of the Qing and Nationalist regimes. This paper, using two examples of criminal cases from the early PRC, then considers how locals used native place names and numerical systems when dealing with the new order of the People’s Republic of China.