Dr. Zhang published in Agriculture and Human Values

From Left Behind to Leader: Gender, Agency, and Food Sovereignty in China

Dr. Li Zhang



Capitalist reforms usually drive outmigration of peasants to cities, while elders, children, and women responsible for their care are “left behind” in the countryside. The plight of these “left behind” populations is a major focus of recent agrarian studies in China. However, rural women are not merely passive victims of these transformations. Building on ethnographic research in Guangxi and Henan provinces from 2013 to 2017, and drawing on critical gender studies and feminist political ecology, I show how the food safety crisis in China creates conditions for peasant women to increase control and income from organic food production, often establishing alternative food networks with the support of female scholars and NGO organizers. Thus, I shift focus of scholarship on rural women from “left behind” to leaders in struggles for justice and food sovereignty.


Agriculture and Human Values is the journal of the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society. The Journal, like the Society, is dedicated to an open and free discussion of the values that shape and the structures that underlie current and alternative visions of food and agricultural systems. To this end the Journal publishes interdisciplinary research that critically examines the values, relationships, conflicts and contradictions within contemporary agricultural and food systems and that addresses the impact of agricultural and food related institutions, policies, and practices on human populations, the environment, democratic governance, and social equity.


The article can be found here.

Author’s original manuscript accepted for publication can be found here.