Apples and oranges: political crops with and against the state in rural China

Authors: , ,


In this article we bring together conceptual threads from political ecology, commodity geographies and agrarian studies to enable an inquiry into the political nature of crops. This inquiry is underpinned by the idea that crops are not just a means or a target of political projects, but can have effects through their webs of relations, and that their different capacities might mean that they may differently engage in political projects. This article examines how specialized cash crops in rural China are enrolled in state projects. We explore the cases of orange orchards in Hubei and apple orchards in Hebei by detailing flows of capital and expertise, and smallholder-crop relations. Our analysis demonstrates that a political ecology of cash crops can provide insight into the politics of successive state projects that have been rolled out in China's agricultural communities. We argue that through evolving relations with smallholders, the attributes of the crops themselves, and particular market dynamics, robust smallholder-crop complexes have emerged that are currently proving resistant to the latest state project to achieve at-scale, industrialized agriculture. If we take political crops and their relations seriously in the story of contemporary agrarian change in China, we find that apple and oranges, previously with the state, can also come to act against it.

Keywords: Agrarian change, vegetal politics, agriculture, smallholders, commodity geographies, China

How to Cite: Rogers, S. , Han, X. & Wilmsen, B. (2022) “Apples and oranges: political crops with and against the state in rural China”, Journal of Political Ecology. 29(1). doi: