Chinese scientists, scholars, and state officials are actively engaged in a transnational movement to preserve “agricultural heritage.” But what is agricultural heritage and how does it relate to a “people’s history” of agriculture? This talk will focus on two sites where the PRC state is actively seeking to promote and preserve agricultural heritage. Both sites are famed for their spectacular agricultural terraces: one lies in the northern province of Hebei and the other in the southern province of Guangxi. Despite ethnic, cultural, and environmental differences, the two sites share some important historical experiences. In both places, people identify terracing as a form of survivial for their migrant ancestors in a new land. More recently, the two sites underwent a powerful, transformative Mao-era history that matters deeply to local people but is in danger or erasure or cooption today in the ahnds of an eco-authoritarian state. The speaker will explore these two cases to demonstrate the need for a critical historical approach: she will urge scholars to recognize the significance of the Mao era in the construction of both agricultural knowledge and the agricultural heritage paradigm, while resisting efforts to coopt that history in the service of state power.
Sigrid Schmalzer is Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her first book, The People’s Peking Man: Popular Science and Human Identity in Twentieth-Century China, was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2008 and won the Sharlin Memorial Award from the Social Science History Association. Her second book, Red Revolution, Green Revolution: Scientific Farming in Socialist China (Chicago, 2016) won the Joseph Levenson Prize form the Association for Asian Studies.