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Updated: Nov 22nd, 2019


China is among the world’s nations with rich historical backgrounds that perhaps every historian seeks to understand. Endowed with a strong political history that interrelates perfectly with its cultural, social, and economic developments, China has attracted the world’s attention due to its unique developments in different spheres. Socialists and historians have found it imperative to record the literature of China in several forms of writings including books in a bid to enrich the world with this unique historical matter.

The work of James Lee and Cameron Campbell is a good example of a book that examines the social and population history of the conventional rural China with regard to social arrangement and behavior of the Chinese living in Liaoning. With regard to such issues concerning social organization, this essay explores the major themes and concepts articulated in the book, Fate and Fortune in Rural China: Social Organization and Population Behavior in Liaoning, by James Lee and Cameron Campbell.

China and the province of Liaoning

Liaoning is a small Chinese province that has its history connected to the ancient capital Shenyang, which existed during the Qing regime of 1644-1911 (Lee and Campbell, 1997). Literature describes this region in the form of a conventional Daoyi landscape that greatly contributed to the development of the modern Liaoning province. The village history was initially much of a family history rather than a community development history, with Daoyi termed as (tun) being a military community form that prevailed during the Qing dynasty.

Through examining the archives of Liaoning province, Lee and Campbell (1997) perused through a series of long-preserved household data and population registers, which revealed that the Daoyi and surrounding communities in Liaoning were initially 12, 000 people. Although little sources substantiate the population density of the contemporary Liaoning, the initial sources of the imperial period reveal that Shenyang had 500,000 people, Baodao had 10,000, and Daoyi tun had 20,000 and these three regions form the Liaoning province.

Major themes and content of the book

The book aimed at examining the social arrangement and population behavior of the Daoyi and the surrounding communities that resided in Liaoning back in the Chinese history (Lee and Campbell, 1997).

The book contains primary research on the Liaoning province and it investigates four fundamental issues in the social organization and population behavior of the Liaoning communities. The book describes the Daoyi landscape, the history of a flood and the development of a bridge, and the social organization and mobility of communities around the Liaoning province (Lee and Campbell, 1997).

The historical legacy documented in the book about Daoyi, its neighboring communities and their social arrangement around this province are the only events that occurred between 1774 and 1873 (Lee and Campbell, 1997). It portrays the long history of the Daoyi, surrounding communities and their form of settlement arrangement based on the natural historical events that almost certainly contributed to their present day social mobility and population behavior.

Lee and Campbell (1997) graphically illustrate how the association between demographic trends and social and natural pressures somehow become integral factors that determine social arrangement of the population as it occurred in the Liaoning province in China. The authors begin by discussing the geographical setting of Shenyang by considering three important physical and infrastructural features that include the river (Pu), the road, and the ridge.

The river, which constantly experienced periodic floods, is a major feature that possibly explains the social arrangement of the communities in Shenyang. As Lee and Campbell (1997; 1) postulate, “Past floods have left scattered ponds in and around the village, as well as several hollows filled with mud.”

The authors further explain that the flood-prone river caused the formation of deep gullies that are currently thick and occupied by stout vegetation. This aspect explains why the population of Daoyi and the surrounding communities are arranged depending on the area landscape, especially when considered that this river has less agricultural importance to them.

The road is another infrastructural feature that Lee and Campbell (1997) consider as important in the social organization and population behavior in the traditional China. The road connecting Shenyang, Jilin, and Mongolia is a common geographical feature that best explains the nature of social mobility in the rural suburbs of the traditional China (Lee and Campbell, 1997).

As the postcolonial road became continuously busier during the modernization period, the village population tended to move away from the busy street, which explains its contemporary residential housing that tends to develop away from the main road (Lee and Campbell, 1997). This aspect separates the local poor villagers from the rich who possessed the brightly decorated restaurants and worked in the beautiful stores and businesses.

The ridge is another feature that determined fate and fortune of villagers in the rural China. Perhaps due to persistent floods from river Pu, Lee and Campbell (1997) state that a village had once developed in this ridge, but later relocated.

In elaborating the theme of social mobility and social organization, Lee and Campbell (1997) connect the historical flood issues of river Pu with the transferring of the village to its present day region. Believed to have happened during the early nineteenth century when prolonged floods were common in many Chinese villages, the events are vividly presented in the local stories (Lee and Campbell, 1997).

As explained by the local posters, the tortoise that found habitat in the swampy flood-prove zones repeatedly destroyed the bridge structures that forced them to construct a turtle temple (Wangba Miao).

Although the present day community portrays a mixture of perceptions on their settlement in Shenyang, Lee and Campbell (1997) believe that the Qing government integrated these communities through the imperial ‘banner’ initiative. Therefore, Lee and Campbell’s story has a complicated and construed realities pertaining to the Shenyang inhabitants, which seem like a jumbled story with convincing evidence. One can barely understand if these communities settled through government’s process or social order.

Comparison between the book and course materials

Although having a mixed story on the social mobility and social arrangement of populations in the rural China in its colonial perspective, the book carries an important message on the concept of human social order as contemporarily evident. According to Lee and Campbell (1997), humans differ distinctively from their social living, which reveals the postmodern societal arrangement as even demonstrated by the housing disparities.

The story earmarks significant attention to gradual societal changes impelled by social pressures, ecological forces, and political circumstances. Lee and Campbell’s book interrelates with important concepts discussed by Chirot (1994), who postulates that social change is a gradual and continuous process that seems to occur in microscopic unnoticed constructive periods.

Chirot (1994) rests his judgment on why, notwithstanding human’s biological and psychological similarities, people tend to differ as years of postmodernism replace traditional histories. Chirot (1994) wonders why despite interbreeding happening so well and even having basic human similarities, there exist huge disparities in social, political, and even economic behaviors.

In his understanding of revolutionary biology, Chariot demonstrates that the process of societal change involves a combination of certain efforts and probabilities, where individuals may genetically inherit useful life characteristics that make them succeed.

According to Chirot (1994: 9), “one of the most important technological changes in human societies, which prepared the way for the evolution of modern societies, was a slow shift from gathering, hunting, and fishing towards agricultural revolution.” Certain modern human aspects, including agriculture and construction activities carry significant influence on the social order of individuals.

More importantly, the issue of agrarian revolution is eminent in the two books where rice growing slowly started shaping the modernity of Shenyang in the case of social mobility as demonstrated by Lee and Campbell. Chariot’s book explains how agricultural revolution, marked by the advent of crop growing, brought enormous social changes through influencing settlements in Mexico and parts of China.

From the story articulated by Lee and Campbell (1997), the notion of economic disparity, which happens naturally, as the poor villagers slowly segregate themselves from the wealthy business tycoons who manage to settle along the busy traffic, clearly demonstrates Diamond’s convictions over scientific technology and economic disparity.

In his book, Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Diamond (1999) seeks to express how the human history developed from the influence of geographical and environmental factors. Just as demonstrated in the story articulated by Lee and Campbell (1997) where ecological and geographical issues helped to shape the modern social arrangement of Liaoning province, Diamond has similar convictions.

Diamond (1999) disputes the prevailing racially based theories, that claim human history has evolved in social mobility based on racial trend, and instead explains significant issues connecting human social arrangement with environmental and geographical factors. The author provides ultimate examples of the influence of geographical and environmental factors and mentions facts from Eurasian, African, Australian, and some American history that reveal such influences.

Diamond (1999) expresses his ultimate perceptions through an elaborate description of how human history unfolded across the different continents, by pointing different ecological and geographical evidences to comprehend his argument.

Geographical factors and environmental factors according to Diamond (1999) influenced the historical development of the preemptive domestication and crop farming that subsequently influenced social arrangements in different continents. Diamond (1999) also connects Chinese social mobility with the advent of Chinese food production with the geographical expansion and interaction of local cultures.

Additionally, the story of social mobility and social arrangement of the people of Liaoning province demonstrated by Lee and Campbell (1997) is connected with issues discussed by Nolan and Lenski. In their book, Human Societies: An Introduction to Macro-sociology, these socialists seek to explain the major transformations of the swiftly changing times across the globe.

Studying humans in the large scale and describing how human historical social arrangements influence social order, the two authors also believe that political, ecological, and geographical pressures influenced human social mobility. Just as portrayed in the story of Lee and Campbell (1997), Nolan and Lenski (2010) use the macro-sociological global approach that describes how human societies offer a comparatively cross-cultural and historical arrangement to establish facts behind the evolution of human social changes.

Through emphasis on the comparison of society’s history and cross-environmental factors, Nolan and Lenski (2010) explain how such natural dynamics contributes to human social changes. They present a clear ecological-evolutionary perception that provides a powerful hypothetical structure for understanding how the arrangement of social order in human societies has occurred.

Just as emphasized by Lee and Campbell (1997), Nolan and Lenski (2010) articulate major evidences that demonstrate how social arrangements relate with the environmental and even the technological contexts as eminent in the modern living. In connection to evolutionary aspects, the authors examine how modernity, which is characterized by cyber warfare and changing political ideologies are presenting unique problems to modern societies.


The contemporary social order with fragmented social arrangements may trace its roots to important traditional social, political, and even ecological pressures that influenced population behaviors.

The story of human evolution seems to be considerably long and disparate stories interpreted it differently as documentation of information might have arrived too late in the decades when human historical events had already surpassed developments. However, with the little evidence accumulated by the theorists, even the socialists like Lee and Campbell (1997) can greatly contribute to the understanding of human evolution, social arrangement and social mobility.

Lee and Campbell (1997), akin to the rest of the socialists, believe that many of the human social transformations and development possess certain ecological, political, and social factors that influenced populations in their settlement behavior. Retrospective to historical events, the ecological and geographical story of Liaoning explicitly demonstrated how the Shenyang, Daoyi, and the surrounding communities followed such events to establish their housing arrangement.


Chirot, Daniel. 1994. How Societies Change. London, UK: Pine Forge Press.

Diamond, Jared. 1999. Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Lee, James and Cameron Campbell. 1997. Fate and Fortune in Rural China: Social Organization and Population Behavior in Liaoning 1774-1873. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Nolan, Patrick and Gerhard Lenski. 2010. Human Societies: An Introduction to Macro-sociology. New York: Paradigm Publishers.

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