You probably don’t care much about agriculture. I didn’t until recently. In America, less than 2% of the population are farmers, and it isn’t unusual if you don’t know a single farmer. In China that proportion is significantly higher, but the disconnect between farmers and lifelong urbanites is growing: a recent PSA on food wastage asks, “who knew that every grain of rice is a strain [for the farmer]?”
One of the major goals of my current research project, “The Rooted State,” is to make agriculture interesting to people who don’t care much about farming by showing how integral it was to achieving modernity. This project, which is currently a PhD dissertation, focuses on the efforts of the Chinese state to modernize the Kham region at the southeast of the Tibetan Plateau in the mid-20th century. I find that story fascinating because it was fraught with problems, and many of them involved agriculture: it’s impossible to grow food crops throughout much of Kham because of its severe topography and climate.
As I write this, I’m finishing my time in Chengdu as a Fulbright Fellow, and concomitantly, the main research phase of my dissertation. This blog will follow my progress on this project, sometimes also reflecting on past experiences or commenting on developments in the wider word that are relevant to the project. I hope to chronicle “The Rooted State” all the way from research to writing and perhaps eventual publication as a book!