> Opinion

Post-agricultural civilization offers new path

FANG LILI | 2021-12-09 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

FILE PHOTO:   This is Zheqiao Village in Gansu Province, a model village where the rural vitalization strategy is implemented.

In recent years, China has formulated a series of policies on the national level in the cultural sector, such as protection of non-tangible cultural heritage, the revival of traditional culture in all respects, and revitalization of traditional handicrafts. In the economic sector, building a new socialist countryside and implementing rural vitalization have become national strategies. In the ecological sector, promoting ecological progress has been written into the constitution. These three sectors are all rooted in villages, where there are large pools of traditional Chinese culture and where non-tangible cultural heritage and traditional handicrafts exist. 

Definition of the concept
The aforementioned national strategies were all targeted at villages. If examined from academic perspectives, they can collectively produce a new idea: a post-agricultural civilization. 
Today’s villages are very different from villages of the past under the impact of industrialization and globalization. Even our attempts at protecting and reinvigorating them require new perspectives and new methodologies. 
“Post-agricultural civilization” should be defined as a branch of knowledge and creativity based ecological economy filled with cultural elements. Key intellectuals in its social group should include scientists from the fields of biology and environmental studies, agronomists, AI engineers, internet experts, anthropologists, cultural workers, artists, designers, and those who work for media. This is a larger team than that of the post-industrial sector. These intellectuals include those from vast fields of science and technology, humanities and social sciences. The cardinal principle is to prioritize innovative solution seeking in the process of industrialization and globalization to create a sustainable environment for humans. In this process, different theories, knowledge, and the ability to innovate will gradually become society’s strategic resources, in the context of which, a highly intellectual model for social development is formed.
Since the burgeoning of industrial civilization, most popular theories and concepts in academia were first put forward and defined by Western scholars, but now, the concept of “post-agricultural civilization” can be first proposed by Chinese scholars.
China has a relatively short history of urbanization and industrialization. The European cultural genes derived from city-states, while the cultural genes of China derive from rural lands with most of its cultural elements rooted in villages. Therefore, China’s rural revitalization is not only about the economy, but also about culture. Since ancient times, China has been a leader in agriculture, and a major manufacturer and exporter in the handicraft industry.
“Post-agricultural civilization” is a new form of civilization which can only come into being when the national economy has matured to a certain level. Since the reform and opening up, the Chinese economy has developed rapidly and infrastructure has greatly improved. Moreover, internet access in rural areas is now universally available. This is the most important prerequisite for a “post-agricultural civilization,” because only in this way can different rural areas be interconnected, despite the decentralized and poly-centric geographical structure of the areas, and thus agricultural regions can display new economic and cultural values.
Global significance 
Today, developed countries have basically transited from industrialization to post-industrialization, but there are still many underdeveloped countries where people live in the era of agricultural civilization. The pace at which human societies evolve has obviously diverged to varied degrees. As the urbanization process has accelerated around the globe in recent years, the side effects of industrialization have become increasingly prominent. Various urban maladies are bringing crises that threaten human existence.
Therefore, the proposal of a “post-agricultural civilization” is not only out of consideration for China’s future development. It also considers whether pre-industrial regions of the world can directly stage into a green post-agricultural society using technology as the basis. 
This is a new opportunity for humans to rebuild and map the future. With the progress of internet technologies and intelligence, human society’s development mode is now transiting from a centralized, large-scaled, and standardized one (which was formed by the first and second industrial revolutions) to a dispersed, small-sized, and diversified one. Such social structures share something in common with the previous agricultural era. In agricultural society, the population was sparsely dotted within small-sized “acquaintance societies.” At the advent of industrialization, people were forced to move to cities which consist of large numbers of strangers for the convenience of resource and information sharing. 
Today, given the convenience of transportation and logistics, as well as the popularity of the internet, people are allowed to work and study in different, scattered places and free to choose any lifestyle in different ecological spaces and in different cultural forms. Through the internet, we seem to have returned to the traditional “acquaintance society.” Such a new social model would mean that rural areas have more appealing prospects than cities—a prospect which exactly fits the “post-agricultural civilization”. The rural revitalization strategy that China implements today is not to guide the boom of industrialization in rural areas, or to turn villages into cities, but to foster the formation of more rural clusters of settlements. 
The concept of a “post-agricultural civilization” is important in that it can become a real social practice. Practicing the concept will show us a path for the future of human development aside from industrialization. This alternate path has a closer affinity with nature, is more environmentally friendly, and is more sustainable. This path will not only provide solutions to rural revitalization in China, but also can help many agricultural countries which do not have the opportunity for industrialization to find a new path toward future development. 
Definitely, such a concept needs to be repeatedly discussed and demonstrated within academia, and continuously improved as China keeps implementing the strategy of rural vitalization. Here in this article, a point of view is offered. To make it a complete theory, continuous study and discussion from academia is needed. 
Fang Lili is a research fellow from the Institute of Art and Anthropology at the Chinese National Academy of Arts and director of the Institute of Art, Sociology and Anthropology at the Southeast University. 
Edited by BAI LE