globalization, dairy consumption, dairy history, Chinese history, soybeans, agriculture

Document Type



Historically, China was a soybean nation and not a dairy nation. Today, China has become the world’s largest dairy importer and third largest dairy producer, and dairy has surpassed soybeans in both consumption volume and sales revenue. This article investigates the legal, political, and socioeconomic factors that drove this transformation, and building upon fieldwork in two Chinese counties, examines the transformation’s socioeconomic impact on China’s several hundred million farmers and ex-farmers and political impact on the Chinese regime. The article makes two arguments. First, despite changes of times and political regimes, China’s dairy tale is a tale about chasing the dreams of progress, modernization, and national rejuvenation. Second, and more tentatively, China’s recent moves toward hard authoritarianism have global roots and can be interpreted in part as political reactions to the systemic job losses and social dislocation in rural-agricultural China after its embrace of globalization.