Seminar: Agricultural and Rural Transformations in China

Rural China

The seminar focuses on the development of China’s rural heartlands and the urban-rural linkages. New technologies have helped modernize China’s agriculture in recent decades and allowed China’s rural labor to migrate into the cities and their industries that have driven China’s economic miracle. The modernization of rural areas, their social transformation, and the interaction of these intertwined processes are less known than China’s urban development, although China’s phenomenal development can only be fully understood by examining them.


15:15-15:25 Introduction by the moderator, Professor Emeritus Jørgen Delman.

15:25-15:40 Professor Wusheng Yu: Where Did the Agricultural Modernization Take China? – Facts, Figures, and Trends

15.40-16:20 Keynote by Lena Kaufmann, PhD, Department of History and Department of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies, University of Zurich: The Agriculture-Migration Nexus in China: A Socio-Technical Perspective on Land Use.

16:35-16:50 Associate Professor Mikkel Bunkenborg: Producing food and trust in rural China.

16:35-17:00 Q&A

Keynote Abstract

How do rural Chinese households deal with the conflicting pressures of migrating into cities to work as well as staying at home to preserve their fields? This is particularly challenging for rice farmers, because paddy fields have to be cultivated continuously to retain their soil quality and value. Focusing on land use, this talk describes farming households’ strategic solutions to this predicament. It does so based on the example of three ethnographic cases related to specific sowing techniques, harvesting technologies and crop choice respectively. The talk shows how, in light of rural-urban migration and agro-technological change, farmers manage to sustain both migration and farming. It suggests that paddy fields play a key role in shaping farmers’ everyday strategies and that ostensibly technical farming decisions are always also social decisions that are closely interlinked with migration decisions. Overall, it argues for paying more attention to the material world of migration and the related knowledge and skills as a way to sense the specific agency of farmers.


Lena Kaufmann

Lena Kaufmann is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Zurich and a visiting researcher at the University of Konstanz. Trained as a social anthropologist and sinologist, she has conducted long-term ethnographic fieldwork on Chinese rural-urban migration, agro-technological transformation and Swiss-Chinese entanglements in digital infrastructures. She is the author of Rural-Urban Migration and Agro-Technological Change in Post-Reform China (Amsterdam University Press, 2021) and the spokesperson of the Regional Group China of the German Anthropological Association.

Wusheng Yu is Professor at the Department of Food and Resource Economics (IFRO), University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

Mikkel Bunkenborg is associate professor, China Studies, Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies (ToRS), University of Copenhagen

Jørgen Delman is professor emeritus, China Studies, Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies (ToRS), University of Copenhagen