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Ku, H. B. (1999) Defining Zeren : Cultural politics in a Chinese village. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This ethnography is writing about the popular resistance of villagers in postreform China. It focuses on the political discourse of villagers who imagine, create and transmit it in everyday life. When they carry out resistance to the state, they speak about how they view their government, what the ideal government-villager relationship is, what the principle of justice and equity is, as well as what their relations with their family, kin and village are, and how they view the good life. In their everyday practice, the evidence shows that there is an elaborate and pervasive principle of social contract or reciprocity, which underlies everyday social relationships. This principle is not only applied to person to person (e.g. villager and villager, villagers and cadres), it is also extended to the relationship between state and villagers. But the findings also tell that this principle is not an external norm/rule or institution/system which is static and unchangeable. It is transformed and reproduced by the villagers in everyday practices. The villagers strategically defined the meaning of zeren in terms of social contract for their own interest. When the state or the cadres violate their principle of zeren, villagers carry out resistance. In Ku Village, villagers' resistance is always in everyday form in order to avoid open confrontation and direct challenge to the state, because such open and organized activities are still dangerous and will probably be met with aimed force and bloodshed in socialist China. In their resistance, they are capable of formulating the rationale for their action discursively via defining and redefining the zeren of the government and their relationship with the state. They draw upon the memory and a rich variety of information from different sources for constructing their models of "good government" and "good cadre", with which they judge the government and local cadres, and then justify their resistance to the state policies. In post-reform China, collecting taxes, imposing fees and enforcing birth control have become the main arenas of conflict between state and villagers. The village cadres are always situated in a dilemma, which formulates an important characteristic of Chinese local politics. On the one hand, they have to implement the state policy; on the other hand, they do not want to hurt the personal relationship with the villagers because they are also bound by the principle of social reciprocity. So normally, they collude with the villagers and keep "one eye opened and one eye closed". At the specific historical moment, however, some village cadres collude with the state and do things against the interest of the villagers.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 14:58

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