PROGRESS IN GEOGRAPHY ›› 2020, Vol. 39 ›› Issue (10): 1632-1642.doi: 10.18306/dlkxjz.2020.10.003

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Rural elite and rural development

LI Yurui1,2,3(), CHANG Guijiang1,2, CAO Lizhe1,2, LONG Hualou1,2,3   

  1. 1. Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China
    2. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
    3. Key Laboratory of Regional Sustainable Development Modeling, CAS, Beijing 100101, China
  • Received:2020-03-06 Revised:2020-05-12 Online:2020-10-28 Published:2020-12-28
  • Supported by:
    Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences(XDA23070303);National Natural Science Foundation of China(41971220);National Natural Science Foundation of China(41731286);National Natural Science Foundation of China(41931293)


In recent years, rural geographers have made in-depth research on the utilization of resources, environmental change, economic development, spatial system, and regional pattern of rural areas. However, the research on the subjects/actors of rural development is relatively weak. Most of these studies focus on the temporal and spatial changes of population and interregional migration. In contrast, insufficient attention is paid to the subgroups of rural development subjects/actors. Rural elite is one of the main subjects of rural governance in China and an important force to promote the modernization of rural governance. Rural elite can often stimulate endogenous motivations, integrate external resources, and organize people to carry out a series of actions based on policy guidance and village resources to promote rural transformation and development. In-depth research on the roles, activities, and problems of rural elite in rural governance has important practical significance. This article analyzed the related concepts of rural elite and explored the active role of rural elite in maintaining the stability of rural society, promoting the economic development of villages, driving entrepreneurship, and fulfilling social responsibilities. We also analyzed the negative effects of autocracy and "distributed order" caused by the concentration of power, and discussed the obstacles and deficiencies of rural governance by rural elite. Rural elite refers to the individuals who are recognized by most villagers in a specific rural area, have strong motivation of development, personal ability, and social network, and are willing to lead or have driven rural development through own expertise. Generally, rural elite is the "engine" for promoting progress, the "locomotive" for collective action, the pioneer for village development, the "bridge builder" for external contact, and the leader of rural vitalization. However, if the supervision mechanism is absent, rural elite may also bring negative effects on the democracy, economic development, and law and order of local areas. In order to better realize the modernization of the rural governance system and governance capacity in China, it is recommended to further strengthen case studies of rural elite governance, deepen the theoretical research of rural elite governance, and explore innovative models for training rural elites. Specifically, it is necessary to strengthen the research on the emerging mechanism and cultivation model of rural elites, deepen the research on the mechanism, mode, and effect of governance by rural elites, pay attention to the new situation and problems of governance by rural elites, and explore the data and methods for the research on rural elites. Strengthening the research of rural elite is helpful for enriching the content and theory of rural geography.

Key words: rural elite, rural development, rural vitalization, rural governance, social networks