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  • Southern Fujian: Reproduction of Traditions in Post-Mao China
  • C. Fred Blake (bio)
Tan Chee-Beng , editor. Southern Fujian: Reproduction of Traditions in Post-Mao China. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 2006, 190 pp. Hardcover $42.00, ISBN 962–996–233–0.

One of the intriguing questions in the anthropology of China is how China sustained its sense of unity over the millennia despite its diversity of cultures and languages. The question becomes more acute in the twentieth-century shift from dynastic to republican formations, a shift that valorized local traditions along with the work of anthropology. The book in hand looks at how local communities in the Quanzhou area of southern Fujian (Minnan) negotiate their traditions vis-à-vis the higher orders of political and economic power, especially since the end of the Mao era.

In the first chapter, "Great Tradition and Its Enemy," Wang Mingming describes how state agencies try to shape Quanzhou traditions to maximize tourism, manage the government's political agenda, and elevate the cultural tastes of ordinary people. In one of many examples, the Quanzhou Bureau of Culture selected the city's Tianhou temple to refurbish its religious value and also to serve as a museum exhibiting the region's cultural connections with Taiwan. Higher levels of government re-created festivals and promoted new forms of mass entertainment to compete with the people's traditional festivities, considered by the state as backward and superstitious. Wang's provocative term, "enemy," refers to the ways in which China's ruling regimes, first imperial, later republican, attempt(ed) to "civilize" then to "mobilize" the masses while declaring heterodox their local traditions and religion-based organizations.

The next chapter by Fan Ke takes a different tack. Here the state agencies are complicit in local efforts to revitalize the Ding-lineage, ancestral cult under the aegis of minority (ethnic Islamic) status. Ancestral cults are generally prohibited by the state because they are regarded as pernicious and backward, but in the case of the Ding-surname group, agents of the state and local leaders finagle their ostensibly opposing interests in ways that facilitate de facto the revitalization of the Ding ancestral cult, which includes refurbishing halls, collating and publishing genealogy, and re-siting graves. For example, the local ceremonies for the 1997 Spring Festival celebrated the publication of a Ding-lineage genealogy. The township's party secretary welcomed the publication, which he referred to as a "gazetteer" instead of a "genealogy." Compiling historical records to write a local gazetteer is politically correct. Compiling genealogy is not. Or as one township cadre told the author concerning revitalizing the ancestral cult, "We try not to look at them when they are doing things like this since they are a minority nationality" (p. 56).

Fan Ke analyzes how each level in the political structure of revitalization participates: From below, the "folk agency" uses its Hui minority status to extenuate [End Page 558] official proscriptions on reconstituting the ancestral cult. The ancestral cult and lineage organization continues to retain Chinese identity despite decades of official efforts, from above, to shift the grounds of Chinese identity to affiliation with a nationality or ethnic group. Fan challenges the idea that marginal or grassroots voices—here, the Ding lineage who are ethnic Hui—constitute a form of resistance against hegemonic discourses. Ding-lineage ancestral rites have been completely rescripted in terms of ideologically correct offerings, changes of venue, dress, and hall function to combine with a celebration of the Ding people's Hui identity. "Therefore, one can always find ways to do things in a direction welcomed by both the state and the ordinary people" (p. 59).

Pan Hongli continues this theme in chapter 3 by showing how lineage revival for the Han majority is accomplished under the umbrella of the Old Folks' Association (Laorenhui) found in many parts of China. Pan illustrates this widespread pattern in his study of Rongqing township near Quanzhou, dominated by a single surname. The lineage system was replaced by the system of collective production during the Mao period, which afterwards was replaced by new civic associations like the Old Folks Association. This association has developed a multiplicity of civic functions and...