Local Traditions, Community Building, and Cultural Adaptation in Reform Era Rural China
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CitationWu, Hsin-Chao. 2014. Local Traditions, Community Building, and Cultural Adaptation in Reform Era Rural China. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
AbstractThis dissertation examines the so-called revival of local traditions in reform-era China. It compares the different paths of adapting local traditions to market transitions and a changing political landscape. Three questions guide this study: 1) given state suppression of tradition, to what extent is power and society in localities still structured by traditional practices? 2) What determines how a particular community can provide support to individual members? 3) Does the cultural legacy of a community constrain how the community can respond to new situations? And how easily can a community reformulate the past to suit the present need?
This study argues that local communities have actively used traditional practices to build community strength and deal with a variety of community issues arising from changes in the political landscape and socio-economic situations. Traditional practices are not nostalgia, but are the base for collective action and social organization in rural communities. The revival of traditional practices constructs community identity, defines how one relates to others, and instructs how one experiences the group to which one belongs.
This study shows that the same sets of cultural practices and symbols with different arrangements can produce different degrees of community solidarity and strength. Variation on the use of traditional practices for building community in different localities is explained through an interactive model with a number of factors jointly shaping the community strength. These are the local legacy, the state, the new market economy, and interests of individual community members. These factors have different interactive relations in each local community, and result in different degrees of community strength.
This study adds to our understanding of reform era China in two particular aspects. The first is to demonstrate how the collective aspect of traditional practices has worked in rural communities. The second is to demystify the effectiveness of Chinese culture on economic development. My study does not treat Chinese culture as a holistic system. Rather, it shows that in economic behavior there is nothing essentially Chinese, such as using lineage or family networks. Cultural utility, such as strong and effective lineage networks, is a result of complex interaction among top-down state forces, the market, local culture, and individual interests, and cannot be duplicated simply out of functional utility and rational calculation.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:13070033
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