As the story of rural reconstruction shows, the Communists were just one among many groups that looked to the countryside in the 1930s for a solution to China’s problems and a pathway to its future. For a few years in the mid-1930s, a multitude of rural-focused reformers and revolutionaries, all with roots in the 1920s intellectual turn toward social activism and rural reform, existed side by side, finding in each other both inspiration and competition. They shared a belief in the countryside’s possibilities and the hope that it could be modernized. The remaking of the self and the individual’s power to effect changes not only to the self but also to society played a central part in these discussions. Rural reconstruction reflected and refracted a core set of Republican-era values that intellectuals mobilized in answer to these concerns: the centrality of literacy to citizenship, the value placed on social organization and association building, and an investment, eventually, in scientific expertise and professional bureaucracy. These qualities were all geographically flexible, and rural reconstructionists took them to the countryside, sometimes insisting that they were actually best manifested—perhaps even natural—among rural people.
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