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Reviewed by:
  • Changing Meanings of Citizenship in Modern China
  • Kristen Parris (bio)
Merle Goldman and Elizabeth J. Perry, editors. Changing Meanings of Citizenship in Modern China. Harvard Contemporary China series, 13. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002. Hardcover, ISBN 0-674-00766-2. Paperback, ISBN 0-674-00843-x.

This volume on citizenship in modern China originated in a conference at Harvard University in 1999 and includes thirteen essays whose topics span the twentieth century. Although definitions vary somewhat throughout, citizenship is generally understood here—and elsewhere—as the benefits or rights and obligations attached to membership in a political community. As an analytical concept, then, citizenship necessarily focuses attention directly on the changing ties between the state and the members of society. While the specific evolution, conceptualization, and practice of citizenship may vary across time and place, it is a category that is common to modern nation-states and is therefore a promising category for the empirical and comparative study of state-society relations. Overall, this welcome collection provides a rich and much-needed examination of state-society relations in twentieth-century China that highlights both change and continuity across regimes.

The book is divided into three sections: (1) "Imperial and Republican China" (five chapters), (2) "The People's Republic" (seven chapters), and (3) "Taiwan" (one chapter), with a number of chapters nicely crossing these boundaries. All of the essays in the first section examine urban China, and primarily Shanghai, in the early twentieth century. All but Perry's work on workers treat elite groups. Nevertheless, with essays on gender, public speaking, merchant organizations, and workers, a complex portrait of citizenship emerges. While focused squarely on Chinese practices and rhetoric in early twentieth-century China, the essays in this section usefully highlight the global context for Chinese practices and thus provide a lens for understanding citizenship as a transnational process.

In her treatment of gender and citizenship ("Citizens or Mothers of Citizens? Gender and the Meaning of Modern Chinese Citizenship"), Joan Judge observes that in the late Qing the education of women became a key element of efforts to strengthen the nation. Qing texts used both traditional and "Western" images of women that opened up spaces for new social and cultural practices. As custodians of the Chinese moral order and mothers of citizens, women were central to modernizing efforts to defend the national honor. With this global contextualization of female citizenship, Judge elucidates the international sources of the corporate character of Chinese citizenship, male and female. Faced with a hostile international environment, citizens were viewed not as individuals with rights to press claims against the state but rather as a group of individuals obligated to defend [End Page 95] the nation's rights in the international arena. In this international context, then, Judge moves beyond the simplistic cultural explanations that have sometimes haunted studies of state-society relations in China. Modern practices and values may indeed resonate with those of the past, but, as Barrington Moore argued years ago, continuity needs as much explanation as change. Judge's essay and David Strand's, which follows with an examination of the significance of speech, including the role of women as activists ("Citizens in the Audience and at the Podium"), contribute to our understanding of both.

Bryna Goodman's essay on merchants as participants in citizenship movements in Shanghai from 1918 to 1924 ("Democratic Calisthenics: The Culture of Urban Associations in the New Republic") is also noteworthy in this regard. Goodman examines the Republican rhetoric and practices of local merchant associations as China was undergoing the troubled transformation from empire to republic. She finds lively citizenship-rights movements among Shanghai's merchants, elite and nonelite, and an impressive array of citizenship practices and forms. Her nuanced and eloquent analysis illuminates the ways in which the "floating rhetoric of democratic equality," unleashed from its moorings in European history, "found cultural anchors in older Chinese notions of hierarchy, community and benevolence" (p. 97) and provided the basis for hybrid forms that cannot properly be understood as either traditionally Chinese or Western. Citizens-rights movements, which were based in Shanghai's new bourgeoisie, were characterized by a harmonious class vision, notions of a collective...


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