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Chinese Village in Huang Shu-Min’s The Spiral Road Essay

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Updated: Jun 6th, 2020

Brief Summary

The Spiral Road is an outstanding book written by Huang Shu-min. Huang is a distinguished scholar in anthropology. Huang studied at the National Taiwan University where he graduated with a degree in anthropology. In 1970, Huang joined Michigan State University where he achieved his doctorate in anthropology. Huang’s book gives an in-depth analysis of the circumstances that befell the Lin village in southeast China where he conducted his study.

The book establishes the way the government’s policies caused turbulent events that undermined community’s solidarity and degradation of the peasantry. The goal of this author is to illustrate how the change in the village emerged, derailed by the twists and turns of government policies and later how peasants managed to turn things around through land reforms. Huang’s focus was to present the real view of rural China and trace various delusions held by Western studies about China.

Rationale for selecting this book

For a long time, rural China remained off-limits to foreigners’ access. This inaccessibility meant that the outside world had little knowledge about what had conspired there during different regimes. However, the opportunity provided by Huang through his intensive study in rural China is very crucial in giving tacit knowledge to fill the gap that has lasted for years. The rural area constituted approximately 80 percent of the entire population hence no studies had the revealed the real experiences of rural China (Huang 21). Huang research sought to fill this information gap by providing information about the tremendous progress made in education, agriculture, and medicine. The author is successful in the way he illustrates his intended purpose of filling the information gap about Chinese society concerning how they raised to the people they are today.

Development of the thesis

Huang succeeds in the way he expresses his ideas to support the thesis and shows how his book title suits the events that unravel throughout the book. The Spiral Road is exactly the way the rural village of Lin follows towards liberation. The book tries to be profound and inspiring. The use of Ye, the local communist leader, provides a personal reminiscence, concerning his experience as a leader. For instance, Huang describes the way poor leadership decisions by Mao led to the so-called Great Leap Forward worsened the living conditions in the village.

Moreover, Huang also shows how his book title suits the events that unravel throughout the book. For instance, Huang describes the way poor leadership decisions by the government sought to undermine the efforts of the peasants (166). Huang shows how the peasants fight their way to political power through the benefits gained from agriculture, education, and medicine. Huang indicates that the land reforms led to the downfall of the property owners and the subsequent rise of the poor peasants.

Additionally, the book is perceptive since it offers profound explanations of the exact political environment of the time; it brings to light the impact of traditional religion, and explains the damaging effects of the Great Leap on Mao’s integrity. In a bid to address the misconceptions held by the Western academics about the rural China, Huang chose to experience the situation himself by living among the people of Lin village.

In this way, Huang was able to generate the first hand feeling as to why people behaved the way they did as well as the challenges they faced. Besides, from Ye’s perspective, it is easy to determine why the villagers acted the way they did and what motivated them to press hard for what they believed. Huang relies much on an informant, Ye rather than from his beliefs. His reliance on informants makes the book credible and easy for readers to make further analysis.

This book shows that most of China’s leaders perceived peasants as mere owners of production who sought to expand individual ownership of land with an agenda to pull production to family level. The government saw this ideology as an impediment to China’s growth. In response, the government initiated programs to influence the thinking and habits of the peasantry. Huang’s study clearly explains why and how the government tried to establish this transformation. He further seeks to show how the government attempts to overthrow the peasantry ideology failed and later reinstated family farming. Huang illustrates how the rural peasant values formally seen as the barrier to China’s progress came to be viewed as the solution to China’s economic challenges.

While developing his thesis concerning the perceived misconceptions, Huang also realizes the Chinese locals bear the same sentiments that they are inferior. Huang expressed his interest in writing a bibliography about Ye. Huang motivation emerged after he had found Ye sharp and critical concerning essential principles of communism. Ye received this idea as a bluff since to him such accolades belonged to people of higher cadre such as Mao and Premier Zhou Enlai (Huang 67). Huang replied by indicating that what Americans knew about China was primarily derived from the perspective of those prominent people such as Mao. Huang went on to argue that it was time for the Western people to learn about the ordinary people in the village who work tirelessly to see China progress (44).

Even though they are many books covering the same topic as Huang, Huang’s work can be said to have an upper hand. Huang sought to produce this particular book since he had background information on his research area. Furthermore, having studied and lectured in the United States, he had learned how the outside world viewed the rural China. On several occasions, Huang talks about the rural China being condemned for its failure to progress.

These assertions prompted Huang to do a field work in the rural China and give an informed presentation to show that the problems that barred progress in rural China were government oriented rather than people based. Huang goes further to show that, genuine contributions of the ordinary people in the making of a nation are overwhelmed by the voices of few political leaders who might not necessarily have a positive impact on development (66). This claim is backed by the author’s desire to make the ordinary people such as Ye known to the world through the publications of their bibliographies

Credibility of the book

Huang tries as much as possible to incorporate Ye’s words to maintain the authenticity of the book. The work is organized chronologically from the day the study started to the end thus making it easy for the reader to follow. Besides, since the book partially targets the Western readers, Huang provides detailed background information to make phrases understandable. Huang utilizes an array of articles and books that are relevant to the topic for readers. For any work to be credible the author must use well-researched sources and cite them appropriately and Huang meets this requirement in the masterpiece book, The Spiral Road. Huang identifies that his interviews with various elderly people were consistent with Ye’s story concerning the events in that society (35). This consistency makes the book credible.


Huang’s book highly benefits from the experience and credentials he adds to the research of a rural village in China. Huang was born in China, he was raised and educated in Taiwan, and trained anthropology in regions practicing different cultures, Taiwan, and the United States. He had a good understanding of the native language and practices of his research village. These qualifications added advantage to his study, thus increasing the credibility in his informed analysis of the research area. In this work, Huang gives a detailed description of the village’s most prominent person, Ye. Since Ye’s experience is just an example of what happens to the entire population, Huang also adds deep ethnographic work and interviews with randomly selected villagers into his work.

Huang offers details into the ongoing challenges of field study in China. Despite the new position of the Chinese government permitting research in the country, Huang’s work encounters general anthropological difficulties of the fieldwork. By going through these problems, Huang can present his thoughts during the interviews with respondents. Consequently, Huang assists the reader to understand a fieldworker’s methodologies, concerns, tensions, and the need for appropriate assessment throughout the interview. Therefore, the reader is given the chance to understand the research process and appreciate how this process is reflected in the findings. Huang successfully builds the grounds for other researchers and students to understand the diverse nature of rural Chinese community. Besides, he offers clarity to the misconceptions held by the Western by analyzing the process of change in a rural village in China.


The writer is over-reliant on Ye, who narrates from his perspective how the government carelessly misled the villagers. Even though Huang utilized other informants, his over-reliance on Ye brings forth a single-dimensional account in the narrative. In spite of his acute sighted observations and engaging thoughts, Ye is a normal human being, who can be irrational, biased and self-centered (Huang 87). Huang describes Ye, as inconsistent with the way he used to dispense justice and other village matters. In the third chapter, Ye feels free to talk about his self-centered ideas to start a lucrative business, and his efforts to find jobs for his relatives.


This book is both academic and informative to leaders who wish to learn how well organized societies work. Huang does a fascinating job to show the changes experienced in Lin village and through his extensive study clears the misconceptions held by the Western about China’s rural society. This book’s diversity makes it attract a broad range of audience. Furthermore, Huang identifies the bias in Ye’s narrative and seeks clarification from various elderly people to ensure consistency. To avoid personalized views and improve credibility, Huang travels wide and deep in the village seeking clarity from villagers regarding the study. What Huang’s audience sees through his analysis allows them to create a new image about the contemporary rural China.

Works Cited

Huang, Shu-min. The Spiral Road, Boulder: Westview Press, 1989. Print.

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1. IvyPanda. "Chinese Village in Huang Shu-Min's The Spiral Road." June 6, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/chinese-village-in-huang-shu-mins-the-spiral-road/.


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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Chinese Village in Huang Shu-Min's The Spiral Road'. 6 June.

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