The ultimate goal of rural reconstruction was rural self-governance. As the Nationalist government attempted to implement Sun Yat-sen’s ideas of “self-governance,” rural reconstruction’s combined emphasis on social mobilization and self-governance made it a particularly appealing rural template for the Nationalists, who did not have a good record of courting and interacting with rural areas. In policies directed at rural areas, the central government repeatedly focused on top-down projects that sought to extract resources, implement security measures, and generally impose control rather than share it. As the Nationalists worked closely with rural reconstruction, these negative connotations rubbed off on the reconstructionists, while little of rural reconstruction’s persuasive optimism was transferred to the Nationalists. Instead, the Nationalists’ commandism undercut the message of self-transformation, self-sufficiency, and self-defense that defined early rural reconstruction efforts. As reformers increasingly cooperated with Nanjing on rural reform efforts, the enforcement of social reform from above instead became its dominant register.
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