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Social Relations in Rural China

From Village Head to Petitioner: The Case of Wu Boliang
Catherine Capdeville-Zeng
p. 59-68


The Wu Boliang affair reported in the Chinese media several years ago is symptomatic of the complex socio-political situation in the Chinese countryside. Wu Boliang was one of the first entrepreneurs from his village to develop the cultivation of mandarin oranges, and in 1993 and 1997 he acquired several orchards under the “responsibility system” in order to make them productive with the help of the township. But the latter did not provide him with the necessary funds in time, obliging him to borrow in his own name to cover the wages of the agricultural workers and the purchase of pesticides, fertiliser, etc. As the years went by and debts piled up, the township still did not reimburse him, forcing Wu Boliang to undertake legal proceedings. Although he immediately won his case against the township, the sums owed to him were still not paid, and he had no other option but to become a petitioner. In 2014, 20 years after the signing of the contract, the matter was finally settled. My in-depth analysis follows this particular case over a period of about ten years, and gives a detailed insight into the intricate interplay between the various mechanisms within the hierarchical pyramid of the Chinese society. This enables me to study the behaviour of the agents – both individuals and institutions.

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Full text document will be published online on June 2018.

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Bibliographical reference

Catherine Capdeville-Zeng, « Social Relations in Rural China », China Perspectives, 2017/2 | 2017, 59-68.

Electronic reference

Catherine Capdeville-Zeng, « Social Relations in Rural China », China Perspectives [Online], 2017/2 | 2017, Online since 01 June 2018, connection on 12 December 2017. URL :

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About the author

Catherine Capdeville-Zeng

Catherine Capdeville-Zeng is a Professor of Chinese Anthropology in the Department of Chinese Studies at INALCO (Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales), Paris.INALCO, 65 Rue des Grands Moulins, 75013 Paris, France (

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