Image Credit: Cornell University Press.

China's rural modernization campaigns have tended to draw a hint of an eye roll from outside observers.

Yes, but: In her deeply researched new book, "Mobilizing for Development," Kristen Looney, an assistant professor of Asian studies and government at Georgetown University, argues that such campaigns have played a significant role in rural development, not just in China, but also in South Korea and Taiwan.

Key takeaways: “Campaigns, like social movements, can create, destroy, revitalize, or circumvent institutions," Looney writes.

  • "They are a powerful means of mobilizing resources for change and have been frequently used in Leninist systems as a check against bureaucratic ossification.”
  • Interestingly, rural modernization campaigns seem to have been more effective in Taiwan and South Korea than in China, according to Looney's research.

"Campaigns more easily spiral out of control in China," Looney told me in an interview, "because there are so few participatory institutions at the lower level, and because there is such a big gap between central control and local governance."

The big picture: Urban industrialization alone didn't do much to help the poor rural populations across several East Asian countries. Rather, Looney demonstrates, it was an active interventionist state that finally helped mobilize resources so rural areas could get a share of modern prosperity.

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Updated Jun 23, 2020 - Politics & Policy

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