The rural county of Poyang, lying in northern Jiangxi Province, goes largely unmentioned in the annals of modern Chinese history. Yet records from the Public Security Bureau archive hold a treasure trove of data on the every day interactions between locals and the law. Drawing on these largely overlooked resources, Tiger, Tyrant, Bandit, Businessman follows four criminal cases that together uniquely illuminate the dawning years of the People's Republic.
Using a unique casefile approach, Brian DeMare recounts stories of a Confucian scholar who found himself allied with bandits and secret society members; a farmer who murdered a cadre; an evil tyrant who exploited religious traditions to avoid prosecution; and a merchant accused of a crime he did not commit. Each case is a tremendous tale, complete with memorable characters, plot twists, and drama. And while all depict the enemies of New China, each also reveals details of village life during this most pivotal moment of recent Chinese history. Together, the narratives bring rural regime change to life, illustrating how the Chinese Communist Party cemented its authority through mass political campaigns, careful legal investigations, and sheer patience. Balancing storytelling with historical inquiry, this book is at once a grassroots view of rural China's legal system and its application to apparent counterrevolutionaries, and a lesson in archival research itself.
About the author
Brian DeMare is Professor of History at Tulane University. He is the author of Land Wars: The Story of China's Agrarian Revolution (Stanford, 2019).
"Written in a lively and accessible style, each chapter presents a skillfully crafted and entertaining narrative of events triggered by the PRC party-state's efforts to intervene in one Chinese local society during the early 1950s. A valuable addition to the field."
—Micah Muscolino, University of California, San Diego
"Through masterful and transparent close readings of criminal cases from the Chinese countryside,Tiger, Tyrant, Bandit, Businessman models the practice of archival research as detective work. The book not only provides a lively portrait of a period and place in contemporary Chinese history, but also offers a marvelous introduction to the historian's craft for student researchers regardless of field."
—Tobie Meyer-Fong, Johns Hopkins University
"In this Le Carré-esquely titled gem, DeMare exploits a unique cache of criminal case files to document the impact that regime change had on the lives of four individuals suspected of 'counterrevolution.' Carefully crafted with an impressive capacity to develop narrative scope and intensity, the outcome is remarkable and riveting grassroots history at its best."
—Michael Schoenhals, Lund University