After a long break, the international network “Modernizing Rural China” in September 2022 could finally convene again, this time in the beautiful “Mols Bjerge” National Park in northern Denmark. In the “hyggelig” atmosphere of a renovated farmhouse (Mols Laboratory), researchers discussed how to proceed with empirical research on rural China in times of Covid-19 and political uncertainties. Although the challenges are many, and most field research had been interrupted, participants had used the times of restricted access to rural China for going back to previous data, and designing new projects.
Participants included Mikkel Bunkenborg (University of Copenhagen), Jørgen Delman (University of Copenhagen), John Donaldson (Singapore Management University), Anders S. Hansen (Aarhus University), Lena Kaufmann (University of Zurich), Kristen Looney (Georgetown University), Elena Meyer-Clement (University of Copenhagen), Mads V. Nielsen, Stig Thøgersen (Aarhus University), René Trappel (University of Freiburg), Zhao Yue (University of Melbourne), Francesco Zaratin (University of Vienna), Jesper Zeuthen (Aalborg University), and Zhu Wei (Aarhus University).
Paper presentations focused on the question of environmental sustainability in Guizhou’s big data projects (Donaldson), digitalization attempts in agriculture (Kaufmann), public intellectuals’ conceptualization of ‘peasants’ (Zaratin), trust and distrust in alternative food networks (Hansen), the politics of organic certification (Zhao), college-graduate village officials (Looney), and the fight against Covid-19 in the countryside (Trappel & Guo). Other presentations discussed new projects, such as on high-tech state moralism and popular surveillance (Zhu/Hansen), and projects in the planning or application phase, such as on hosting and guesting (Bunkenborg), the centralized governing of rural urbanization (Meyer-Clement), and automated decision-making and village banks (Zeuthen).
The lively discussions across disciplinary boundaries were immensely fruitful, and overall reflected the joy of coming together again from different parts of the world to discuss the issue of China’s rural modernization. We plan on holding the next meeting in February 2024 in Singapore.