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Between State and Society, Between Professionalism and Politics: The Shanghai Bar Association in Republican China, 1912-1937 by Xiaoqun Xu The Shanghai Bar Association (Shanghai lushi gonghui) was one of the urban voluntary associations that came into existence in the tremendous outburst of popular activism following the outbreak of the 1911 Revolution and the founding of the Republic of China in 1912. Unlike many urban associations that had existed before or appeared after the revolution, the Shanghai Bar Association (SBA) was a professional association (ziyou zhiye tuanti) sanctioned by the Republican government, and therefore a legally established association (jatuan) or public association (gongtuan).1 The Shanghai Bar Association did start out for professional purposes. As the government regulations on lawyers during this period explicitly prohibited bar associations from undertaking matters other than those relating to judicial affairs, most of the Shanghai Bar Association's activities were directed at professionalization of lawyers and the institutionalization of the rule of law and judicial independence in the country. Yet, if professionalization per se was an apolitical goal, the demand for the rule of law and judicial independence often challenged the practices of the authorities and thus assumed political meanings. Furthermore, if the demand for the rule of law and judicial independence could be defended as judicial issues and therefore professional concerns for lawyers, the same could not be said of actions directed at national politics and the government's foreign policies. It was into these two areas, however, that the Shanghai Bar Association found itself being drawn in the 1920s and 1930s. This historical experience deserves attention, as it will enhance our understanding of the state -society relationship in Republican China.2 In the past fifteen years or so, the state-society relationship has been one of the central issues in the study of modem China. While social scientists are interested in the post-Mao reforms and the attendant developments in statesociety and central-local relations, historians have paid a great deal of attention to the rise of local elite activism in the late Qing and the Republican period.3 Scholars have little disagreement on the empirical evidence of local elite activism during the period, but they disagree on whether this development should be Twentieth-Century China, XXIV, NO.1 (November 1998): 1-29 2 Twentieth-Century China interpreted as the rise of civil society/public sphere.4 As Heath B. Chamberlain has summarized, scholars have generally dealt with the dilemma in applying the Western-derived concept to the Chinese scene in three ways: "to alter the concept to fit the landscape; to look for changes in the landscape to fit the concept; or to drop the concept entirely."5 This essay does not attempt to take one of the three positions by theorizing about civil society. Rather, with the Shanghai Bar Association as a case in point, I choose to study concrete forms various social groups adopted and specific avenues they pursued to interact with state in the Republican era. What we find is a symbiotic dynamics in a complex, evolving process of state-society interaction, in which state and society were mutually dependent and interpenetrated; legitimacy and authority on either side often contingent and contested; and private, group, and public interests and purposes overlapping and negotiated. To grasp the complexity of these relationships, let us pose a key question: Who represented the state at various points of time, say between 1912 and 1927 (the Beiyang period)? As we shall see, the state in the Beiyang period, especially in the post-Yuan Shikai years, was not a static, monolithic entity, but a fluid, shifting, and even multiple one, one that could be defined separately, negotiated with simultaneously, and ignored partially or temporarily by various societal actors at different times. To some extent it is the actions of social groups that defined the legitimacy of the state and the reach of state power. At the same time, society was not a static entity with fixed boundaries either. Social space was contested and earned by societal actors in their interaction with the state whose reach they helped to define. This was especially true of the newly emerging professional groups. As far as the Shanghai...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-5065
Print ISSN
1521-5385
Pages
pp. 1-29
Launched on MUSE
2021-05-25
Open Access
No
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