Social Scientist. v 5, no. 58-59 (May-June 1977) p. 17.


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JONATHAN UNGER

Collective Incentives in a Peasant Community:

Lessons from Chen Village

WHY should the Chinese peasants want to work their collective land diligently or reinvest a portion of the proceeds in the soil? Rural China's organization has in large measure been structured around these questions. The Chinese government, through difficult trial and error, had to devise an agrarian system that is not only socialist but workable. Above all else the peasantry had to be motivated to generate the foodstuffs for a fifth of mankind as well as the agricultural inputs needed for industrialization. In the pages that follow, we shall be exploring how China's methods of organizing the countryside have been shaped sirongly by this overriding need to provide the peasants with a ^stake9 in agricultural development sufficient to induce them to labour both energetically and efficiently.

Any reference to ^efficiency5 or ^labour motivation' in collective agriculture almost inevitably raises the question as to whether a private agriculture of peasant small-holders might not operate more efficiently. Let this provide, then, the starting-point for this discussion. It would not do to ask whether Chinese productivity might today be higher or lower were private ownership permitted, since such ^ifs51 in history by definition remain imponderables. But we can try to draw a brief comparison with the most effective elements of the system which



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