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China Off Center

Susan D. Blum & Lionel Jensen (eds.)

Publication Year: 2002

China Off Center takes as its fundamental assumption that contemporary China can only be understood as a complex, decentralized place, where the view from above (Beijing) and from tourist buses is a skewed one. Instead of generalizing about China, it demonstrates that this diverse national terrain is better conceived as it is experienced by Chinese, as a set of many Chinas. To that end, this anthology of interpretive essays and ethnographic reports focuses on the everyday, the particular, the local, and the puzzling. Together with contextualizing introductions, the readings provide students with a compelling look at some little-known but significant aspects of China from the past decade; for those already familiar with China, they furnish an assortment of uncommon viewpoints in a single, convenient volume.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ix-xi

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pp. xiii-xvi

The editors of this volume seek to demonstrate that the enduring image of China as a homogeneous society and culture—China as a distinctly “centered” society—cannot really be sustained when we look closely at the usual indicators of cultural and social integration: language, ethnicity, region, and...

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pp. xvii-xix

China Off Center takes as its fundamental assumption that contemporary China can be understood only as a complex, increasingly decentralized place, where the view from above, from Beijing, and from tourist buses or conference rooms is a skewed one. Instead of generalizing about...


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pp. xxi-xxii

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1. Introduction: Reconsidering the Middle Kingdom

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pp. 1-20

When Americans think of China, a familiar set of images tends to come to mind: the Great Wall, chopsticks, Guilin’s dramatic stone and mist landscape, peasants toiling timelessly in rice paddies (see fig. 1.1), long silk dresses with slits up the side, mysterious writing, the Forbidden City, communism...

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pp. 21-24

Center (zhongyang) is a word used frequently in China to refer to the central administration; it also figures into the name for China (Zhonghua, Zhongguo). The sinograph or character for zhong (center, middle) has long been considered an image of an arrow piercing a target, yet this pictographic etymology makes...

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2. How Much of China Is Ruled by Beijing?

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pp. 25-30

In this brief chapter, originally posted on the Internet, Liu Binyan asks a question frequently posed throughout this book: How much of China is ruled by Beijing? His query is political and administrative; ours extends to the cultural and psychological domains. But he recounts instance after instance in which...

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3. Symbols of Southern Identity: Rivaling Unitary Nationalism

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pp. 31-44

The political scientist Edward Friedman inquires here into the possibilities for nationalism in different moments in modern China. Inspired by Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities ([1989] 1991), in which one of the origins of nationalism is traced to the development of a common literature, an “administrative...

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4. The Languages of China

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pp. 45-64

In this very clear yet technical chapter, Robert Ramsey describes the sorts of differences that exist among the contemporary dialects of Chinese, usually divided into seven major groups, each with a large number of subdivisions not all of which are mutually intelligible. He explains the origins of some of...

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Part II. Geographic Margins

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pp. 65-68

The title “Geographic Margins” conveys the impression that there is a geographic center. In fact there is: China proper, including the provinces of Shandong, Hebei, Henan, Hubei, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Anhui, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangzhou, Jiangxi, Hunan, and Sichuan. This geographically tiny fraction of...

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pp. 69-70

At present, China’s northwest is arguably one of the most intriguing areas of the nation, for it is here that cultural tensions have recently spilled over into violence against the Chinese government. In February 1997, the Uighur minority peoples staged a demonstration in the city of Yining in northwestern...

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5. Chinese Turkestan: Xinjiang

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pp. 71-105

In this chapter, excerpted from the long book China’s Far West (1993), the late Doak Barnett describes his impressions of Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region from his 1988 trip and compares them to those of a similar trip undertaken in 1948—just before the establishment of the People’s Republic of China....

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6. Ethnoreligious Resurgence in a Northwestern Sufi Community

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pp. 106-126

In this chapter, excerpted from Dru Gladney’s significant book on the Muslim Chinese known as Hui, we learn about a community in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region in which the predominant religious orientation is the Sufi sect of Islam. Ningxia is a tiny province-level area of 66,400 square kilometers...

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pp. 127-129

The southwest includes the provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan, and Hunan, covering an area of approximately 1.1 million square kilometers. The first two provinces are known for their ethnic diversity as well as their historic poverty and marginality. Sichuan is a unique province, a central humid basin...

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7. Town and Village Naxi Identities in the Lijiang Basin

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pp. 131-147

This chapter, like the one that follows, was written specifically for this volume, as a contribution to readers’ understanding of the relation between national and local cultures. Pulling out information about the setting of her research on plural medical systems, the anthropologist Sydney White describes the seat...

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8. Ethnic and Linguistic Diversity in Kunming

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pp. 148-166

In this chapter, Susan Blum, a cultural and linguistic anthropologist, describes some of the many types of people who live in and around Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province. Her urban ethnography fills out the linguistic and cultural complexity adumbrated by Sydney White’s (chap. 7) portrait of rural...

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9. The Construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese Identities

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pp. 167-182

If we wish to discuss the contemporary Chinese experience in its broadest sense, we must take into account the “overseas Chinese” (huaqiao). Not only do they account for a substantial amount of the world’s wealth—in 1992, the Economist estimated their liquid assets to be roughly $3 trillion, equivalent to...

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pp. 183-184

The south and southeast of China are usually considered its wealthiest, most advanced, most modern areas. This portion includes the cities of Shanghai and Nanjing, Canton (Guangzhou), and Xiamen (in Fujian); it is the area settled by Chinese first during the Song period as the north was invaded by powerful,...

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10. The Secret History of the Hakkas: The Chinese Revolution as a Hakka Enterprise

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pp. 185-213

The Hakka, “guest people” (kejia), are considered a “subethnic” branch of the Han, speaking a Han dialect and with little officially recognized history of their own. In this detective-story-like chapter, the linguist Mary Erbaugh shows how significant Hakka participation is and has been in Chinese political life—within...

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Part III. Social and Cultural Margins

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pp. 215-218

To name something marginal is to claim that a center exists, which is contradictory to the aims of this book. Yet the belief that a center exists is something else again. There is a psychological center in views of China’s society and culture; for Westerners, it may involve the exotic East, and, for Chinese, it may...

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pp. 219-220

In this portion of the book readers are offered an opportunity to explore more easily the complexities of contemporary life through insight into the degree of change in sexual attitudes and practices among the Chinese. Although sex is a very private matter in the West, just as it is in China, we are very conscious of...

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11. Sexual Behavior in Modern China

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pp. 221-237

Roughly five years following the inauguration of China’s economic reform and “opening to the West,” scholarly treatments of sexuality in China began to appear. The 1980s saw the conducting of public seminars and conferences on sexuality and contemporary sexual problems as well as publication of a number...

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12. The Cut Sleeve Revisited: A Contemporary Account of Male Homosexuality

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pp. 238-246

The national sex survey presented in chapter 11 provided an incomplete catalog of sexual practices, and Vincent Gil’s essay takes up one of the most glaring deficiencies in its respondent pool: male homosexuals. The article’s title is a reference to the book by Brett Hinsch, Passions of the Cut Sleeve (1990), and to...

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pp. 247-248

It is often believed that “traditional” societies have clear-cut, timeless divisions of labor along gender lines and that, with “modernity,” such roles are called into question. We caution readers to distinguish ideology from practice, ideals from behavior. In some conflated “traditional” China—far from...

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13. “The Moon Reflecting the Sunlight”: The Village Woman

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pp. 249-269

Rural Chinese life has little resonance with the Western reading or televisionviewing public, so this chapter offers a brief, but very valuable, glimpse at the gender and labor realities of the contemporary countryside. This chapter comes from James and Ann Tyson’s innovative Chinese Awakenings (1995). In...

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pp. 271-272

Before the end of 2001, China was admitted into the World Trade Organization (WTO), a very long twenty months after it had been granted permanent normal trade relations with the United States. China’s admission into the WTO signaled ceremoniously what most of the world already instinctively acknowledged...

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14. The Floating Population in the Cities: Markets, Migration, and the Prospects for Citizenship

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pp. 273-288

The liudong renkou, or “floating population,” offers one of several key windows on the adverse unintended consequences of the dismantling of China’s collectivist social system and rural household registration, coupled with the exaggerated economic advantage of urban versus rural life. China’s “migrant...

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pp. 289-290

Popular culture takes many forms in today’s China. With the growth of a middle class and the existence of a two-day weekend for students and urban workers, people have more time and resources for the pursuit of leisure than at any time since well before 1949. The wealthy have always enjoyed hobbies and...

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15. The Politics of Popular Music in Post-Tiananmen China

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pp. 291-307

We have included this article by Andrew Jones because it provides a glimpse into the politics and economics of popular culture in contemporary China. Jones draws a contrast between state-sponsored tongsu yinyue (popular music) and yaogun yinyue (rock music) and shows how musical forms and music...

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pp. 309-310

Historically, the Chinese have been what Westerners would regard as a religious people. Although because such religion as they practice is inextricably intertwined with the rhythms of daily life, it is largely invisible and, consequently, not very well represented. The Chinese Revolution may have modified...

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16. Magic, Science, and Qigong in Contemporary China

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pp. 311-322

In this final section of the book, we consider religion and spirituality, long prominent among Chinese but since the Revolution actively discouraged by the Communist Party. Today, the government of China officially recognizes five religions: Buddhism, Islam, Daoism, Roman Catholicism (under the aegis...

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17. The Spirits of Reform: The Power of Belief in Northern China

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pp. 323-340

Like Eric Karchmer, the anthropologist Diane Dorfman is interested in looking at the role of beliefs about rationality, modernization, and power in the contemporary People’s Republic especially as these coalesce around complexes of faith. Her article examines the ubiquitous belief in mixin, superstition, on the...

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Afterword: Centers and Peripheries, Nation and World

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pp. 341-345

If we have realized the chief objective of the course from which this interpretive anthology was drawn—familiarizing students with contemporary Chinese life through a combination of critical readings and active engagement in the everyday—then the reader of these pages may be disturbed. Disgruntlement...


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pp. 347-363


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pp. 365-385


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pp. 387


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pp. 389-402

E-ISBN-13: 9780824861834
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824823351

Publication Year: 2002