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22 January 2019

Strauss Distinguished Scholar Joshua Eisenman’s book, Red China’s Green Revolution: Technological Innovation, Institutional Change and Economic Development Under the Commune, was recently reviewed in Foreign Affairs and the Wall Street Journal. Columbia Professor Andrew Nathan captures Eisenman’s argument in this month’s Foreign Affairs, noting that “after the famine, and especially in the early 1970s, the reorganized communes fostered a green revolution that laid the basis for the rapid economic growth of the post-Mao era.” In the Wall Street Journal, Gerard Gayou called the book “a bold second look at one of history’s most infamous institutions.” Nathan highlights that Eisenman marshals previously inaccessible data to show how Mao’s communes modernized agriculture, increased productivity, and spurred and agricultural green revolution that laid the foundation for China’s future raid growth. Households’ meager surpluses were extracted, pooled, and reinvested in productive seeds, fertilizers and tractors via an agricultural research and extension system nested into each rural commune. Gayou also highlights Eisenman’s argument that “far from being doomed to low productivity and poor accountability, the Mao-era communes…paralleled a period of great productivity in China,” and were abandoned by Deng Xiaoping’s reform faction for primarily political reasons.  

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