Rural China on the Eve of Revolution

Sichuan Fieldnotes, 1949-1950

G. William Skinner
Edited by Stevan Harrell and William Lavely
Afterword by Zhijia Shen

  • Published: December 2016
  • Subject Listing: Anthropology; Asian Studies / China; History
  • Bibliographic information: 280 pp., 68 bandw illus., 3 maps, 9 tables, 7 x 9 in.
  • Published with: University of Washington Libraries
  • Contents

In 1949, G. William Skinner, a Cornell University graduate student, set off for southwest China to conduct field research on rural social structure. He settled near the market town of Gaodianzi, Sichuan, and lived there for two and a half months, until the newly arrived Communists asked him to leave. During his time in Sichuan, Skinner kept detailed field notes and took scores of photos of rural life and unfolding events.

Skinner went on to become a giant in his field-his obituary in American Anthropologist called him "the world's most influential anthropologist of China." A key portion of his legacy arose from his Sichuan fieldwork, contained in his classic monograph Marketing and Social Structure in Rural China. Although the People's Liberation Army confiscated Skinner's research materials, some had been sent out in advance and were discovered among the files donated to the University of Washington Libraries after his death. Skinner's notes and photos bring to life this rare glimpse of rural China on the brink of momentous change.
G. William Skinner (1925-2008) was the dean of sinological anthropology in the West, a major theorist of family systems, and a pioneer in applying spatial analysis techniques to the study of agrarian societies. Stevan Harrell, professor of anthropology and environmental and forest sciences at the University of Washington, is the author of Ways of Being Ethnic in Southwest China. William Lavely, professor of international studies and sociology at the University of Washington, is the author of many articles on demography and the family in contemporary China.

"An important contribution to the historical literature on China's revolution as a firsthand account of the communist transition."
-P. Steven Sangren, author of Chinese Sociologics: An Anthropological Account of Alienation and Social Reproduction

"The discovery of Bill Skinner's day-to-day account of the communist takeover of Sichuan is very significant. Historians, anthropologists, sociologists, and political scientists will find much of interest in this book."
-James L. Watson, Harvard University

"William Skinner's field notes, edited by Harrell and Lavely, present an absorbing recital of life in rural Sichuan on the eve of its transformation into socialism. The photos enormously enhance the text, which is studded with insights foreshadowing some of Skinner's most important contributions to the China field, and evoke the circumstances of ordinary Chinese living through chaotic times. There is much to learn from this book."
-Evelyn Rawski, University of Pittsburgh

Preface / Stevan Harrell and William Lavely
1. The Road to Gaodianzi: June-November 1949
2. Settling In: November 12-26
3. A Household Survey and Rumors of the Communists: November 28-December 16
4. Working Out the Market Network as the PLA Approaches: December 13-24
5. Liberation! December 27-January 3
6. The Communists and the Temples: January 5-13
7. The Last Dongyue Temple Festival: January 15-17
8. The Premature End of Fieldwork: January 18-25
Epilogue: January-May 1950
Afterword / Zhijia Shen

"Skinner (d. 2008) was a leading anthropologist of Chinese society, and much more. . . . This is a unique document."

"This book deserves to be read by all students of twentieth-century rural China, in particular those with an interest in Sichuan. . . . Skinner's acute observations and his strong sympathy for the people he studied (a sympathy which they apparently returned) remain a model almost seventy years after the fact."
-Jacob Eyferth, Pacific Affairs