In Marx’s thought, “commune” is an over-determined term that contains multiple meanings and has given rise to divergent interpretations of history. On the one hand, “commune” refers to the archaic social formation in which individual is not yet differentiated from the community and carries the negative meaning of “backwardness,” “stagnation,” and is even linked with the “despotism.” This “modernizationist” element in Marx’s thought was systematically developed by Karl Wittfogel in his influential work on “oriental despotism,” and became a prevalent myth in the West. However, as Kevin Anderson and TeodorShanin reveal, there is another aspect of “commune” in late Marx’s thought, that is, an egalitarian and self-governing social organization which contains the possibility of transcending the modern capitalist state. Historians like Philip C. C. Huang and Prasenjit Duara echo this dimension of “alternative modernity” using Chinese experience, demonstrating the “commune-like” character of Chinese villages in late Qing period. More recent studies of Cai Xiang and He Guimei also illustrate how Chinese revolution preserved and interacted with such rural tradition of “community” during the “collectivization” movement. By examining the works of six scholars, I attempt to reconstruct a line of “commune” that inheres in the history of modern China and open up the discursive space for differential modernities.
Chen Xiangjing is a postdoctoral fellow of the state-sponsored Program of International Postdoctoral Fellowship, affiliated with the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, Tsinghua University; she is also the academic secretary of the Institute of World Literatures and Cultures at Tsinghua University. She received her B.A. and M.A. in modern Chinese literature from Peking University, and Ph.D. in East Asian literature at Cornell University in August 2017. Her research interests include Chinese socialist literature and culture, modernity of East Asia, Marxist theory on uneven development, and translation theory. Her dissertation explores the literary representation of the village-based “commune” in Chinese modern literature and its role in China’s course of modernization as well as in the “uneven” structure of world economy.