Rural Cooperation, Villager Empowerment, and China’s Agrarian Futures: Insights from A Women’s Cooperative in Guangzhou

Dr Karita Kan1

1Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong

The globalization of agri-food systems has brought fundamental changes to agrarian economies around the world. While connecting rural communities to global circuits of production and distribution, the rise of corporate capital has increasingly come under challenge for subsuming local development needs and environmental sustainability to market-oriented agendas. The pressing need to re-socialize economic relations was poignantly brought home by the global financial and food crises of the 2000s, whose devastating effects had paved the way for new initiatives that emphasize community cooperation, mutualism and equity. Based on the empirical study of a women’s cooperative in Guangzhou, this paper examines the implementation and impact of rural cooperation in China. Under market transition, the Chinese countryside has been confronted with deepening agrarian crises in production and livelihoods. While the Chinese government has first responded by promoting agricultural modernization and commercialization, reformers have recently drawn attention to grassroots initiatives in rural cooperation. Rural cooperatives saw a marked proliferation in the 2000s; as of 2016, there were 1.67 million cooperatives nationwide. Drawing on fieldwork, this paper analyses the achievements of rural cooperation on the ground in terms of villager empowerment and gender relations, and asks whether cooperatives offer a sustainable pathway of development.


Karita Kan is Assistant Professor at the Department of Applied Social Sciences, Hong Kong Polytechnic University. She received her DPhil and MPhil in Politics from the University of Oxford. She has published her research on rural political economy, urbanization and development in international peer-review journals.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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