Linking and De-linking: Politics of Food Imports and Self-Reliance in China

China’s growing food imports in the past decade have caught much attention, to the extent that it revives the alarm of “who will feed China.” Paradoxically the country has also maintained a policy of food self-sufficiency. The current leadership reiterated that China must “hold the rice bowl in its own hands,” indicating that China should produce most of its food for the sake of food security. The simultaneous linking (relying on the global market) and de-linking (self-reliance) in food supply present a puzzle in understanding the food strategy that China takes. This paper examines contradictory forces that have shaped China’s food politics over the past four decades and their implications for the global food system. The complex linking and de-linking dynamics in China’s food politics necessitates a holistic approach to capture the interactions between domestic actors and global forces. In this approach, linking and de-linking are not seen as the binary between structure and agency or between the world-systemic force and autonomous national development. Rather, they are weaved into an intertwining process that reflects the contradictions between capitalist accumulation and the crisis of underproduction, between neoliberal globalization and interstate competition, and between profit and livelihood.

About the Speaker
Shaohua Zhan is assistant professor of sociology at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He was a recipient of the Henry Luce/ACLS postdoctoral fellowship in China Studies in 2014. His research interests include land politics, food security, migration, and economic development. His articles have appeared in a number of top-ranked journals. He is the author of he Land Question in China: Agrarian Capitalism, Industrious Revolution, and East Asian Development (Routledge, 2019). He is working on two research projects. One examines food politics in China and its interconnections with international food trade, overseas agricultural investments, and global food security. The other compares Chinese and Indian Immigrants in Singapore, Los Angeles and Vancouver.

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