Student Experience | How I learned to stop worrying and love the Dacha

Highland Capital Management Tower Scholar Tim Smith’19 attended the SMU Tower Center Sun & Star Program Oct. 23 Rural Urban Human Circulation: A Comparison between China and Russia. He shared his experience:

“Professor Hiroki Takeuchi’s remarks at the end of the presentation were sage departing words: ‘President Xi Jinping and President Vladimir Putin may be known in the United States for their works in the international sphere, but they will remain primarily concerned with domestic affairs and the pulse of the people. For it is within their country’s populace that their mandate of rule lies, and their dissatisfaction can spell an end to either regime.’

It is for this reason that studies like that of Fumiki Tahara, Associate Professor at the University of Tokyo, present evidence and ideas that concern the administration of China and Russia. While both China and Russia have a similar historic background of socialist rule and collectivization action, the rural-urban relationship in each nation have marked differences, Professor Tahara argues.

The Revolution of 1917 ushered the Soviet Union into being, and destroyed of the pre-revolution rural-urban structure. The Russian Mir villages, where communal farming took place under the eye of urbanite landowning “lords” became the Soviet Kolkhaz and Sovkhoz, similar agricultural systems now operated under the supervising authority of the state. After some decades of adjustment, urbanization of the Soviets reached alarming levels, with former rural residents taking flight to the industrialized cities. Despite the urban build-up, food production had not yet reached sustenance levels for the country’s citizens, which called for the implementation of community food gardens in suburban dachas. Village numbers began to dwindle as a result of this transition, and those which remained had to undergo significant changes. However, there is an increasing call for educated city residents to take up titles and positions as experts in agriculture, medicine or other deficient sectors in the rural villages that have become sparse in the last few decades.

The tale of Chinese villages differs greatly. Before Mao’s ascension, peasant farmers answered to an elite landowner similar to Russia, but these landowners would be present in the farmer’s own lands rather than being far removed. These elites in turn were responsible for providing tribute and goods to urban elites. The revolution that took place allowed for a divorce of sorts between the city elites and their representatives in the villages. While urbanization began to take place in the 1950s and 60s, government policies like “Up the Mountains and Down to the Countryside” reversed this course, and kept poor people in their farming communities. Rural population numbers are still high in China as a result, and it is the norm for those who seek a better life to get ‘one way tickets’ in the form of pursuing their education in dense population-centers. Still, the villages remain a large force in the country.

In Professor Tahara’s view, this has resulted in a fusion of cultures between urban and rural peoples in Russia but a sharp dual structure in China. The number of farmers in China and Russia are dwindling still, but the cultural prevalence and force of the Chinese village lifestyle referred to as Miao or “local minority culture,” weighs heavily on government officials in the CCP. Demographics and their contentment with policies and policy outcomes drive what comes next for each country, and it is the job of these authoritarian governments (should they wish to continue to govern) to respond to elements of discontent.”

Tim Smith is a junior at SMU majoring in history and political science, as well as earning the Tower Scholars Program selective minor in public policy and international affairs and minors in philosophy and international studies.