Kristen Looney on Rural Development in East Asia

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We asked author Kristen E. Looney three questions about her new book Mobilizing for Development: The Modernization of Rural East Asia, and her research on rural development in East Asia.

1. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book?

The book cover is an image of Huaxi cun, China’s richest village. It is meant to convey an ideal modern village and the unrealistic aspirations of campaigns. When I visited Huaxi in 2010, that skyscraper was being built. They called it the “new village in the sky” in honor of the New Socialist Countryside campaign. And when I asked the party secretary, Wu Renbao, whether the village industries had been negatively affected by the global financial crisis, he replied: “No, we just bought a helicopter for our tourists!” I love that you can see it flying in this picture.

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now?

Most China scholars write books about China, not China and other countries. When I started down this path, I doubted whether the comparison would work. But to my surprise, I encountered many people in China who were not only interested in the comparative aspect of my research, but who also understood China’s development experience to be part of a broader regional pattern.

3. How do you wish you could change the field of International studies?

My hope for the book is that it changes the way people think about East Asia’s political economy. For decades, the story of East Asia’s economic transformation has been told, and taught, from one main perspective: the developmental state framework. The book expands and challenges that theory by showing a different side to the politics and policies of these regimes, one that is less bureaucratic and more revolutionary. I also hope to encourage more studies of agrarian politics and rural development, which are important topics that have unfortunately been neglected in political science research.

Kristen Looney is Assistant Professor of Asian Studies and Government at Georgetown University.

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