Additional Readings and Links

Popular Protest and Political Culture in Modern China
Second Edition

edited by Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom and Elizabeth J. Perry


Since its inception following World War II, the field of contemporary Chinese studies has been confronted by a series of extraordinary events. The first generation of specialists, schooled in a classical sinological tradition that stressed China's unique cultural continuity, was immediately challenged by what seemed-at least on the face of it-a major rupture with the past: the Communist Revolution of 1949. Not surprisingly, these specialists' efforts to explain this momentous aberration defined the initial contours of contemporary Chinese studies. Although scholarly opinion on the nature of the revolution was deeply divided, the debate centered on the extent to which the ideology and practice of Chinese communism could be said to reflect indigenous cultural influences, as opposed to a wholesale importation of the Soviet model. (1)

Once they had recovered from the initial shock of "losing" China, many analysts chose to take comfort in their sinology, emphasizing a peculiar political tradition intelligible only to the classically trained specialist. As C. P. Fitzgerald summarized this position, "The Chinese conceptions which underlie the theory of government are unique; unlike any others, and evolved in China. The roots are deep and nourished in a soil alien to the West; the flower is therefore also strange, and hard to recognize."(2) Superficial revolutionary changes were believed to belie a deeper continuity: "The Chinese Communists, embracing a world authoritarian doctrine in place of one local to China, have enlarged the arena in which old Chinese ideas can once more be put into practice, in more modern guise, expanded to the new scale, but fundamentally the same ideas which inspired the builders of the Han Empire and the restorers of the T'ang."(3)

Although never fully resolved (as academic arguments seldom are), the controversy surrounding the origins of Chinese communism abated as the storm of revolutionary struggle was overtaken by the calm of regime consolidation. A second generation of specialists set about the sober task of documenting the development of Chinese communism, which seemed increasingly to resemble its Soviet precursor in many respects.(4) Whether wedded to a totalitarian model or to a more pluralist perspective, this new generation of China scholars-now increasingly trained as social scientists rather than as historians-identified the Chinese Communist model's numerous similarities to Soviet and East European counterparts.(5)

However, just as the comparative communism perspective was gaining popularity, along came the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of 1966-1969. Faced with the challenge of explaining this unexpected event, those in the contemporary Chinese studies field again were caught up in controversy. China's dramatic break with Soviet-style communism-exemplified in Mao's Cultural Revolution-aroused renewed interest and disagreement over the continuing importance of indigenous political traditions. However, unlike the first generation of scholarly debate on the Communist Revolution of 1949, the new round of controversy was debated instead by scholars whose training and academic self-identity derived from the burgeoning field of political science. Drawing on recent trends in their discipline, these political scientists viewed the Cultural Revolution as a problem in "political development." Wedded to central precepts of the modernization paradigm, they stressed the role of "political culture"(6) in fashioning China's unorthodox and uncertain developmental path.

Modernization theorists emphasized the close relationship of political culture to "political socialization" (that is, "the process whereby political values and attitudes are inculcated") and "secularization" (that is, "the process whereby men become increasingly rational, analytical, and empirical in their political action"). (7) In the case of China, distinctive patterns of childrearing and schooling (or "socialization") were blamed for the seeming irrationalities (or lack of "secularization") characteristic of Red Guard excesses during the Cultural Revolution. By this account, the Cultural Revolution constituted a crisis in political development whose origins could be traced back to peculiarities of Chinese culture-particularly as embodied in conflictual authority relations. (8)

Although strongly influenced by prevailing political science fashion, advocates of a political culture approach within the Chinese studies field also departed methodologically from mainstream currents in their discipline. Most analysts of political culture, dovetailing their studies with the behavioral revolution then sweeping the U.S. social sciences, pursued their projects through statistical interpretations of large-scale attitude surveys. (9) By contrast, students of Chinese political culture-denied access to field research in mainland China-resorted to a much less rigorous brand of methodology. Personal impressions (presented as psychocultural analysis) were combined with small-scale surveys of unrepresentative samples in Taiwan and Hong Kong, as well as schematic references to philosophical texts and historical events, so as to cobble together a portrait of Chinese political culture that proved unconvincing to many in the sinological and social science camps alike. (10) As a result, the concept of political culture developed a rather unsavory reputation among China specialists. Moreover, as fascination with attitude surveys waned within the political science profession at large, the study of political culture was largely abandoned by other wings of the discipline as well.

The simultaneous fading both of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and of the disciplinary interest in political culture drew scholars of contemporary China back to more prosaic styles of comparative analysis. Elite policymaking-whether approached in terms of factionalism, bureaucratic politics, or ideology-dominated the field. (11) In addition, those who deigned to search below the commanding heights of the political system for the activities of ordinary peasants and workers generally did so from a "structuralist" rather than a "culturalist" point of view. (12) Moreover, as post-Mao China embarked upon a reform program that resembled ongoing experiments in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, comparisons with other Communist systems regained currency. (13)

The Challenge of 1989

Recently, students of contemporary China have been confronted again by a crisis in understanding prompted by a popular protest that defied the best predictions of specialists in the field. The unrest of 1989, during which protesters in Beijing and other major cities throughout China took to the streets to demand both an end to official corruption and a guarantee of greater political freedom, shook the very foundations of Communist Party rule. With the help of the capabilities of modern communications technologies, these same events also sent shock waves around the world. The occupation of Tiananmen Square, the confrontation between a lone protester and a row of government tanks, the erection of a "Goddess of Democracy" statue, and the June Fourth Massacre in which soldiers of the People's Liberation Army turned their weapons upon unarmed citizens-images such as these appeared immediately on television newscasts in countries across the globe, alternately inspiring and horrifying audiences and changing forever the way they thought about China.

The events of the 1989 protest and its subsequent repression had an equally profound impact upon those who study China for a living. Once again, the academic world was forced to question many of its most basic premises about contemporary Chinese society and politics. The present volume is an attempt to take stock of some of the reconsiderations to which the 1989 movement gave rise. As was the case with the Communist Revolution of 1949 and the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1969, the uprising of 1989 and its aftermath have generated more controversy than consensus. Thus, the chapters that follow will not present a unitary interpretation. Rather, they introduce some of the ways in which leading scholars from different disciplines, with different areas of expertise and different methodologies, have started to place the recent events into perspective. All of the chapters are meant to offer insights into distinctive features of the 1989 movement and its consequences as well as to stimulate new thinking about contemporary China in general. Taken as a whole, the essays suggest some of the directions in which recent developments have already begun to alter the analysis of Chinese popular protest.

Despite the diversity of these contributions, they share a fascination with political culture, although the authors tend to shy away from that particular term, tainted as it is with unpleasant memories of past usage. As they did in the debates that followed earlier crises in the unfolding of the Chinese Revolution, scholars are again looking to indigenous precedents to answer why the outcome in Beijing differed so radically from that in Budapest, Bucharest, or Berlin. In so doing, they join a "culture craze" ( wenhua re ) that has swept both Chinese and Western academic circles in recent years. (14)

The New Political Culture

Is this culturalist trend nothing more than a temporary (and perhaps misguided) phase, soon to be replaced by a more sober return to elitist and structuralist modes of analysis? As adherents of the neoculturalist perspective, we let our defense rest upon the belief that this approach differs significantly from previous efforts to explain Chinese protest in cultural terms and that it offers a more credible, and thus longer-lived, means of interpreting political change.

Whereas earlier cultural initiatives were promoted variously by historians steeped in sinology or by political scientists seeking to link up with the latest disciplinary fad, the current turn to culture has attracted historians and social scientists alike. Happily, recent years have seen a blurring of the sharp division between history and the social sciences that emerged with the second generation of contemporary China specialists. Gone are the days when the year 1949 demarcated a strict disciplinary boundary that was to be trespassed only at some risk to one's professional standing. (15) Constructive interaction between history and the social sciences has moderated the eccentricities of antiquarianism, on the one hand, and paradigm faddism, on the other, to which each of these branches of learning-if left to its own devices-was often prone.

Another advantage enjoyed by scholars today is the greater maturity and sophistication of both historical and contemporary studies. Thanks to a generous infusion of new talent into the China field, we have all learned a good deal about the complexities of Chinese society and politics-past and present. Our picture of "traditional" culture is a more refined one (with greater appreciation of temporal and regional variation) than was available to preceding generations. (16) Furthermore, our understanding of the current scene also has been much advanced by the access to fieldwork and other previously unobtainable sources that has enlivened the past decade of research. (17)

One result of this new accumulation of knowledge is an aversion to static or monochromic portraits of Chinese culture. Differences in time period, social status, and geographical location were, we now realize, characterized by important distinctions in belief and behavior. As a consequence, the challenge to the student of contemporary Chinese popular protest is to discover which of a multitude of available cultural repertoires is being drawn upon. Moreover, recognition of the fluidity and flexibility of cultural practice alerts the analyst to the possibility of innovation and originality. Rather than seeing Chinese politics as forever condemned to a treadmill of repetitive patterns, we look instead for creative deviation and breakthrough. Such transformations in political culture, one hastens to add, are not necessarily in the direction of greater "secularization." One finds little evidence, in China or elsewhere in the world, of a process whereby "traditional" orientations inexorably give way to more "rational" modes of thinking. (18) The dichotomous mentality underlying modernization theory, it turns out, is a poor guide to the complexities of political change in the real world.

But whether one is more impressed with continuity or with transformation (a matter on which the contributors to this volume differ among themselves), political culture is seen as an arena of conflict as well as consensus-rooted in, yet not reducible to, the social context. (19) Thus, in place of socialization (which was credited in modernization theory with creating value consensus), (20) neoculturalist approaches emphasize the importance of symbolism, language, and ritual. Such "discourses," if we may employ that overworked term, are viewed as loci of confrontation and contestation among social actors. Accordingly, the connection between political culture and social context is seen as intimate, indeed inseparable. As Lynn Hunt, a pioneer in the analysis of the political culture of the French Revolution, has written:

Revolutionary political culture cannot be deduced from social structures, social conflicts, or the social identity of revolutionaries. Political practices were not simply the expression of "underlying" economic and social interests. . . . This is not to say, however, that the Revolution was only intellectual or that politics had primacy over society rather than vice versa. The revolution in politics was an explosive interaction between ideas and reality, between intention and circumstance, between collective practices and social context. If revolutionary politics cannot be deduced from the social identity of the revolutionaries, then neither can it be divorced from it: the Revolution was made by people, and some people were more attracted than others to the politics of revolution. A better metaphor for the relationship between society and politics [than the metaphor of levels] is the knot or the Mobius strip, because the two sides were inextricably intertwined, with no "above" and "below." (21)

By providing "equal time" for cultural practice and social structure, refusing to elevate either of them to the level of an "independent variable," the neoculturalist perspective strives for a comprehensive understanding of political change. It is this feature of the approach, we believe, that will rescue it from the short-lived fates suffered by previous culturalist efforts.

A political culture approach predicts neither that China will remain forever unchanged nor that China is headed down the road of convergence (either with the liberal West or with other formerly Communist societies in Eastern Europe). It does claim, however, that change will inevitably draw heavily on established cultural repertoires. To make sense of popular protest will therefore require serious attention to the language, symbolism, and ritual of both resistance and repression. (22) And these, in turn, can be deciphered only in historical context-as meanings established over generations of political practice. Of course, no society is immune from outside influence; patterns of change in China are inevitably shaped by (and themselves shape) developments elsewhere around the world. Yet the interpretation of foreign models will proceed in Chinese terms-variegated and variable as we now know these to be.

The chapters that follow examine the relationship between the events of 1989 and changing Chinese repertoires of resistance and repression. Preliminary as this excursion into neoculturalist analysis is, we hope that it will stimulate more sophisticated, similar endeavors in the future. Recent reexaminations of the French Revolution demonstrate just how fruitful the approach can be. (23) In stressing the diversity of the cultural material from which both revolutionaries and authorities fashion their beliefs and behaviors, we aim toward a more refined understanding of the links to tradition than was evident in scholarship on the Communist Revolution of 1949 and the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1969.

The Protest of 1989 and Chinese Political Culture

In Part 1 of this volume, the contributing historians lay out some guiding frameworks. The multiplicity of political legacies that confronted both reformers and protesters in 1989 is the subject of Ernest Young's contribution. As Young points out, contemporary Chinese are heirs to several very different anciens regimes: the imperial reign of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), the chaotic warlord interregnum (1911-1927), the Nationalist rule of the Kuomintang (1927-1949), and communism under Chairman Mao (1949-1976). The often contradictory nature of these various traditions has resulted in an identity crisis for Deng Xiaoping's post-Mao reforms; confusion has surrounded the whole question of which aspects of the past are to be altered. Although anxious to demonstrate a transformative break with the conservative Qing, for example, reformers have been equally anxious to avoid the radical excesses of Maoism. Such dilemmas have led to a confusing political discourse on the part of authorities and dissenters alike. Thanks to "the multitude of ghosts that China's modern history has conjured up," reformers turn into repressors and democrats into elitists. Young asserts that we are dealing in 1989 "not only with the persistence of an attitude or with the consequences of an unchanging Chinese political culture, but also with a cumulative effect. Every generation's repetition of the rationale for postponing democracy produces a changing meaning, as well."

This theme of change within repetition is further pursued by Joseph Esherick and Jeffrey Wasserstrom, who view the events of 1989 as "an exercise in political theater." Student protesters, even when improvising, worked from familiar "scripts" of state rituals and protest repertoires-some of which dated back for millennia and others of which were of relatively recent vintage. The centrality of ritual in imperial China was joined by new forms of popular protest at the turn of this century to render political theater a dominant mode of political expression. Efforts by the Communist state to tame this behavior into ritualized mass campaigns were not entirely successful, as both the Cultural Revolution and the protests of 1989 make clear. Yet, according to Esherick and Wasserstrom, Chinese street theater is politically limited. Unlike in Eastern Europe, where democratic institutions played a critical role in translating street theater into programs for political change, in China a weak civil society has undermined the development of pluralist politics.

In Part 2, Craig Calhoun, Lee Feigon, and I explore the bases of participation in the social movement of 1989. In my chapter, I stress the extent to which student protesters were fettered by tradition. In their subservient style of remonstrance, their search for political patrons, and above all their elitist moralism, students evidenced patterns of belief and behavior befitting the heirs of Confucianism. Picking up on the theatrical metaphor of Esherick and Wasserstrom, I emphasize the limited cast of characters included in the 1989 performance. Students reserved for themselves the starring roles, relegating workers, peasants, and entrepreneurs to the sidelines. The explanation for this undemocratic style is, I suggest, structural: Institutionalized links between students and state officials continued to limit alliances of intellectuals with other social groups.

The inegalitarian inclinations of student protesters is further explored in Part 2 in Lee Feigon's discussion of gender. Despite the prominence of Chai Ling and some other women leaders, males dominated the upper echelons of the 1989 protest movement. Moreover, neither men nor women showed a serious commitment to overcoming gender-based inequality. According to Feigon, women were prone to accept a state-defined image of femininity that accentuated differences with men and confined women to less public roles. Even the Goddess of Democracy, although ostensibly a challenge to state authority, "demonstrated the hollowness of this conception of feminine strength and of the dependence of the student movement on the Chinese government." On the question of gender, as on the issues of democracy and economic reform, students were strongly influenced by state authority and logic.

In contrast to this emphasis on the limitations of student radicalism, Craig Calhoun highlights the protesters' "capacity for heroism." Calhoun reminds us that social movements involve a constant construction and reconstruction of political identities. Over the course of the protest movement itself, "the basic self-identification of the protesting students in Tiananmen Square-and not just their intellectual self-categorization but their lived identity-was transformed, and at least for a time radicalized, by six weeks of activism." Self-interest was replaced by a willingness to sacrifice for the Chinese people as a whole. Historical tales of martyrdom became exemplars for contemporary acts of bravery that could not be explained in terms of class position or concrete material interests: "That so many rose to the challenge of their own ideals was crucial to giving the events of 1989 their enduring significance."

In Part 3, two analysts examine the place of art and music in the construction of new Chinese political identities. Tsao Tsing-yuan's firsthand account of the making of the "goddess of democracy" stresses the eclecticism of the sculptors who created the statue that came to symbolize the aspirations of the protest movement. Striving for "a new work of universal appeal," the young artists at the Central Academy for Fine Arts borrowed freely from foreign precedents. Like Calhoun, Tsao underscores the selfless devotion of these students whose creation "was as close to a true collaborative work as any project of this kind can be."

Sculpture was not the only cultural vehicle for political protest in 1989. As Andrew Jones explains in Part 3, popular music also assumed an unprecedented importance: "rock bands performed for hunger-striking students on the square, and satires of government corruption set to popular melodies were regularly broadcast over makeshift public address systems throughout Beijing." In the wake of the suppression of the protest movement, however, the politics of popular music have changed. Despite an increase in the number of rock bands, their political criticism has diminished significantly. In contrast to the universalism of the Tiananmen era, today's musicians strive for "a distinctly Chinese sensibility" and advocate "a nativist return to traditional roots." Moreover, their search for commercial success has resulted in a gradual abandonment of an oppositional cultural politics in favor of what Jones dubs "commodity nativism."

In Part 4, the contributing authors focus more intensively on the changing roles of intellectuals in contemporary China. Vera Schwarcz contrasts the protagonists of the drama of Tiananmen with earlier student movements. Superficial similarities between the events of 1989 and the May Fourth Movement of 1919, she argues, obscure a more disturbing parallel with the Cultural Revolution. Although quick to commemorate their link to May Fourth, many Chinese intellectuals overlooked the more painful lesson of the Cultural Revolution: Student idealism could be abused in the context of crowd politics. Like the Red Guards of the 1960s, students in 1989 were, according to Schwarcz, "swallowed by the language of political revolution." Exhilarated with the heady taste of protest, they failed "to take notice of the heavy burden of the past that hung over the sea of red flags in Tiananmen Square."

Timothy Cheek further pursues the restraints on contemporary intellectuals, noting that most Chinese intellectuals have yet to make the transition from "priests" serving the interests of the state to independent professionals. Operating under a "social contract" that affords opportunities for public service and scholarship in exchange for obedience to the state, many intellectuals still cleave to their "old mandarin function." Cheek suggests that the events of 1989 may have worked to accelerate "the movement from priest-rentiers serving the cosmic state (Confucian or Leninist) to professionals salaried in a bourgeois society." But he concludes that this process is as yet not far advanced, a situation that helps to explain why China's popular protests did not result in the dramatic regime changes witnessed in Eastern Europe.

In contrast to Cheek's emphasis in Part 4 on stability, Stephen MacKinnon sees considerable evidence of dramatic transformation. Noting that "it is hard to overestimate the effect in political terms of American media penetration of Chinese cities," he stresses the importance of the press-both American and Chinese-in promoting political change. MacKinnon draws parallels between journalism in the 1980s and in the 1930s-1940s (on the eve of revolution). In both periods, he sees journalists as committed "to a higher kind of loyalty: to truth outside the state." Despite the effectiveness of Communist Party controls today, MacKinnon looks forward by the end of the century to "the leading contribution of both media to the creation of a civil society in China."

According to Daniel Chirot, it was just such a process that ultimately brought down the Communist states of Eastern Europe. Part 5 contributors explore the relationship between regime stability and popular legitimacy. As important as economic problems were to the demise of communism in Eastern Europe, Chirot argues that "utter moral rot" was the essential cause of the collapse. Once the utopian ideology of the Party had been discredited, charges of immorality fueled the public alienation. Central to this development was the growth of a civil society, where intellectuals and other urbanites wrote and talked about alternatives to the corrupt rule of the Party-state. Looking ahead, Chirot predicts that "more than ever, the fundamental causes of revolutionary instability will be moral. The urban middle and professional classes, the intellectuals and those to whom they most directly appeal, will set the tone of political change."

Tony Saich delineates a series of changes in state-society relations in post-1989 China that "make the practice of rule much more difficult." Highlighting a decline in the state patronage system analyzed by Cheek, Saich sees among Chinese intellectuals the emergence of a "more critically minded" form of expression. From films and songs to jokes and hair styles, Party credibility is being undermined by an alternative public discourse outside the bounds of state control. The result, Saich concludes, is that "the Party-state is denied legitimacy by much of its urban population." Yet the prognosis is not necessarily an immediate collapse of the system, as occurred in Eastern Europe. In place of the state's moral authority, a "free-for-all urban society" in China has undermined interpersonal relationships and led to a moral vacuum.

The relative weakness of Chinese urbanites has prompted many analysts to discount the likelihood of fundamental political transformation in the near future. In Part 6, Jeffrey Wasserstrom and Liu Xiaobo consider efforts by Western observers and Chinese participants to make historical sense of 1989. As Wasserstrom observes, Western interpretations have tended to present the events of 1989 as tragedy-a noble quest doomed to failure. Controversy has surrounded the question of who the protagonists were (the students or Deng Xiaoping and Zhao Ziyang) and why they failed (whether because of circumstances beyond their control or because of their own shortcomings). Chinese accounts, by contrast, have often portrayed the uprising of 1989 as romance-a conflict between good and evil that results in the exaltation of the hero. Here again there have been disagreements over the identity of the protagonists (with Hu Yaobang, student martyrs, or People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers variously assuming this role in different versions) and over the meaning of their struggle. For his own part, Wasserstrom favors a tragic narrative that sees the uprising of 1989 "as related to but also significantly different from earlier PRC struggles." He concludes that "to leave open the possibility that the events of 1989 may have fundamentally altered Chinese political arrangements, and perhaps even Chinese political culture itself, is to suggest that those who died on June 4 may not have sacrificed their lives in vain."

The meaning of sacrifice is further explored in the concluding contribution by Liu Xiaobo, a central figure in the events of 1989. Like Chirot and Saich, Liu speaks of a weakening of legitimacy-but he sees this trend as largely confined to intellectuals; among ordinary people, Deng Xiaoping's reforms built "deep popular support and a solid, practical legitimacy." Like Calhoun, Liu stresses the tendency of a protest movement to take on a life of its own: "As soon as the kindling of revolution is lit, it burns, the fire rapidly becoming flames that reach to heaven." But he views this process of radicalization as the ultimate undoing of the movement: "The illusion created by the dynamism of the moment caused us to ignore the horrible consequences which would result from the continual escalation of the movement." Liu interprets the psychology of sacrifice and martyrdom that took hold during the protest as a reflection of the success of Communist Party education and as antithetical to the process of democratization. Echoing the theatrical metaphor that frames this volume, he confesses: "I don't know if we university students and intellectuals who played the role of revolutionary saints and democratic stars for two months can reasonably, calmly, justly and realistically reevaluate what we did and thought in 1989. . . . If we can, then the blood of June Fourth will not have flowed in vain-it will still be thicker than water. If we can't, then the blood of June Fourth will at most be able to nurture those shameless bloodsuckers."


The year 1989 will undoubtedly go down as a watershed in modern world history. Fittingly, the bicentennial of the French Revolution was marked by protests across the globe raising many of the same demands that we associate with the storming of the Bastille. In Eastern Europe these protests brought about stunning political change, whereas in China the uprising was brutally suppressed. Yet the French precedent cautions against too early or too easy an assessment of the ultimate results. Now, two hundred years after the fact, scholarly reappraisals of the French Revolution are revealing a far more complicated-if no less consequential-event than previously recognized. Central to this reconsideration is an appreciation of the significance of political culture. (24) As liberating as the French Revolution was, it was also limited by the rhetoric and rituals of the past.

Comparisons with France thus offer both inspiration and admonition to the student of contemporary China. We must be alert to the heavy hand of history-including its unattractive as well as its appealing features-while remaining open to the possibility of real change. Cultural traditions provide raw materials for political action but not in any formulaic fashion. As French historian Keith Baker puts it, "Political culture is a historical creation, subject to constant elaboration and development through the activities of the individuals and groups whose purposes it defines. As it sustains and gives meaning to political activity, so is it itself shaped and transformed in the course of that activity." (25)

That Chinese political culture gives shape to recognizable but flexible patterns of protest can be seen by comparison with Taiwan, another Chinese society recently rocked by popular unrest. In March 1990, a massive, week-long student sit-in occupied the Chiang Kaishek Memorial grounds in the center of Taipei. Their demands (for dissolution of the National Assembly and direct elections of the President) were different, but the style of protest was remarkably reminiscent of the previous year's student movement on the mainland. The Chinese protesters in Taiwan donned the same white headbands, broadcast the same rock music, and undertook a similarly dramatic hunger strike as their counterparts had done in Beijing. One Taipei student captured the special attention of the media precisely because of her striking resemblance to Chai Ling, the woman activist of Tiananmen fame. Yet there were important departures, as well. In place of the foreign-inspired Goddess of Democracy that loomed over Tiananmen Square, the Taiwan students erected a huge papier-mache lily, a native plant symbolic of both purity and independence. And although Taipei protesters imitated the Beijing exemplar in establishing a picket line to separate themselves from ordinary citizens, the students actually welcomed members of the labor movement, the farmers' movement, the women's movement, and environmental and homeless advocates inside the cordon. (26) Thanks to the socioeconomic changes of recent years, the distinctions between urban intellectuals and other social groups had become much less pronounced in Taiwan than was the situation on the opposite side of the Taiwan Straits.

The importance of innovation within tradition forms the central theme of this volume. The authors present popular protest as anchored in, yet not immobilized by, longstanding cultural practice. In analyzing the sources of change, moreover, we acknowledge the inextricable and interactive connections among society, economy, polity, and culture. While this new political culture approach is still in its infancy in the contemporary Chinese studies field, its application to the study of political change elsewhere in the world is well established. Our hope is that the further development of this perspective among China scholars may improve our understanding of Chinese popular protest so that future uprisings will find us better prepared than was the case in 1949, 1969, or 1989.


1. Contributions to this early debate included John King Fairbank, The United States and China (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1948); Karl A. Wittfogel, "The Influence of Leninism-Stalinism on China," Annals , vol. 277 (September 1951), pp. 22-34; Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957); Wittfogel, "The Legend of 'Maoism,'" China Quarterly , no. 1 (January-March 1960), pp. 72-86, and no. 2 (April-June 1960), pp. 16-31; Benjamin Schwartz, "The Legend of the 'Legend of Maoism,'" China Quarterly , no. 2 (April-June 1960), pp. 35-42; and Joseph R. Levenson, Confucian China and Its Modern Fate (3 vols.) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1958-1965).

2. C. P. Fitzgerald, The Birth of Communist China (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin, 1964), p. 20.

3. Ibid., p. 42.

4. Examples of the comparative communism approach are found in Donald W. Treadgold, ed., Soviet and Chinese Communism: Similarities and Differences (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1967); and Chalmers Johnson, ed., Change in Communist Systems (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1970). See also Thomas P. Bernstein, "Leadership and Mass Mobilisation in the Soviet and Chinese Collectivisation Campaigns of 1929-1930 and 1955-1956: A Comparison," China Quarterly , no. 31 (July-September 1967), pp. 1-42.

5. For recent critiques of both the totalitarian and pluralist perspectives, see Vivienne Shue, The Reach of the State: Sketches of the Chinese Body Politic (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988), chapter 1; and Andrew G. Walder, Communist Neo-Traditionalism: Work and Authority in Chinese Industry (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), chapter 1.

6. The standard definition of political culture as "attitudes, beliefs, values and skills which are current in an entire population, as well as those special propensities and patterns which may be found within separate parts of that population" appears in Gabriel A. Almond and G. Bingham Powell, Jr., Comparative Politics: A Developmental Approach (Boston: Little, Brown, 1966), p. 23.

7. Ibid.

8. The main statements of this position were Lucian W. Pye, The Spirit of Chinese Politics (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1968); and Richard Solomon, Mao's Revolution and Chinese Political Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971). More recently, Pye's The Dynamics of Chinese Politics (Cambridge: Oelgeschlager, Gunn and Hain, 1981) and The Mandarin and the Cadre (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Center for Chinese Studies, 1988) present updated versions of this line of analysis.

9. The standard was set by Gabriel A. Almond and Sidney Verba's comparative study of the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, and Mexico: The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations (Boston: Little, Brown, 1965).

10. For a critique from the sinological point of view, see Frederick W. Mote's review of Solomon's book in the Journal of Asian Studies ; for a social science critique, see Richard Kagan and Norma Diamond, "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: Pye, Solomon, and the 'Spirit of Chinese Politics,'" Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars , vol. 5, no. 1 (July 1973), pp. 62-68. Another critical review is John Gittings, "Bringing Up the Red Guards," New York Review of Books (December 16, 1971), pp. 13-17.

11. On factions, see Andrew J. Nathan, "A Factional Model of Chinese Politics," China Quarterly , no. 53 (January-March 1973), pp. 34-66; and the critique by Tang Tsou, "Prolegomenon to the Study of Informal Groups in CCP Politics," China Quarterly , no. 65 (January-March 1976), pp. 98-113. Also William L. Parish, "Factions in Chinese Military Politics," China Quarterly , no. 56 (October-December 1973), pp. 667-699. On bureaucratic politics, see David M. Lampton, The Politics of Medicine in China: The Policy Process, 1949-1977 (Boulder: Westview Press, 1977); and Kenneth Lieberthal and Michel Oksenberg, Policy Making in China: Leaders, Structures, and Processes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988). On ideology, see Dorothy Solinger, ed., Three Visions of Chinese Socialism (Boulder: Westview Press, 1984); and Harry Harding, Organizing China: The Problem of Bureaucracy, 1949-1976 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1981).

12. William L. Parish and Martin King Whyte, Village and Family in Contemporary China (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978); and Martin King Whyte and William L. Parish, Urban Life in Contemporary China (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984); Walder, Communist Neo-Traditionalism ; Jean Oi, State and Peasant in Contemporary China: The Political Economy of Village Government (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989); John P. Burns, Political Participation in Rural China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988); David Zweig, Agrarian Radicalism in China (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989). Notable exceptions to the structuralist mainstream are Richard Madsen, Morality and Politics in a Chinese Village (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984); Perry Link, Richard Madsen, and Paul G. Pickowicz, eds., Unofficial China: Popular Culture and Thought in the People's Republic (Boulder: Westview Press, 1989); and Helen F. Siu, "Recycling Tradition: Culture, History, and Political Economy in the Chrysanthemum Festivals of South China," Comparative Studies in Society and History , vol. 32, no. 4 (October 1990), pp. 765-795.

13. Elizabeth J. Perry and Christine Wong, eds., The Political Economy of Reform in Post-Mao China (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985); Victor Nee and David Stark, Remaking the Economic Institutions of Socialism: China and Eastern Europe (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989).

14. On the Chinese side, the film "River Elegy" ( He shang ) was one influential manifestation of this trend. (For further discussion, see especially the chapters by Calhoun, Jones, and Saich.) See also Xiao Gongqin, Rujia sixiang de kunjing (The Confucian dilemma) (Chengdu: Sichuan People's Press, 1986). On the Western side, influential works range from E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin, 1963), to Pierre Bourdieu, Language and Symbolic Power (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991).

15. Important examples of recent works that defy the traditional dividing line are political scientist David Strand's Rickshaw Beijing (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989) and historian Philip C. C. Huang's The Peasant Family and Rural Development in the Yangzi Delta, 1350-1988 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990).

16. Paul A. Cohen, Discovering History in China: American Historical Writings on the Recent Chinese Past (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984) discusses these developments. See also David Johnson, Andrew J. Nathan, and Evelyn S. Rawski, eds., Popular Culture in Late Imperial China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985).

17. For an overview of the contemporary field, see Michel Oksenberg, "The Literature on Post-1949 China: An Interpretive Essay," in Roderick MacFarquhar, ed., The Cambridge History of China , vol. XIV (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985).

18. In Almond and Powell, Comparative Politics , pp. 24-25, cultural secularization is described as "the process whereby traditional orientations give way to more dynamic decision-making processes involving the gathering of information, the evaluation of information, the laying out of alternative courses of action, the selection of a course of action from among these possible courses, and the means whereby one tests whether or not a given course of action is producing the consequences which were intended." One need look only as far as the Islamic Revolution in Iran or the fierce ethnic conflicts now raging across much of Eastern Europe to grasp the obvious point that political change may not lead to cultural secularization.

19. This point is made in Lynn Hunt, "Political Culture and the French Revolution," States and Social Structures Newsletter , no. 11 (Fall 1989), p. 2. See also Lynn Hunt, ed., The New Cultural History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989).

20. This view was of course heavily influenced by the work of sociologist Talcott Parsons. For a critique of Parsons, see especially Alvin Gouldner, The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology (New York: Basic Books, 1970).

21. Lynn Hunt, Politics, Culture, and Class in the French Revolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), pp. 12-13.

22. Whereas the "new social history" has tended to stress the popular resistance side of the equation, studies by political scientists and anthropologists have often focused on the state's use of symbolic power to maintain legitimacy. See, for example, Murray Edelman, The Symbolic Use of Politics (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1964); Clifford Geertz, Negara: The Theatre State in Nineteenth-Century Bali (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980); Raymond Cohen, Theatre of Power (New York: Longman, 1987); and David I. Kertzer, Ritual, Politics, and Power (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988). For those who want a general sense of the ways in which students of modern China have come to terms with both sides of this equation, two of the best places to start are Joseph W. Esherick and Mary B. Rankin, "Introduction," in idem., eds., Chinese Local Elites and Patterns of Dominance (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), pp. 1-24; and Daniel Little, Understanding Peasant China: Case Studies in the Philosophy of Social Science (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989). In discussing the work of various China specialists, as well as leading scholars of Southeast Asian protest such as James Scott and Hue-Tam Ho Tai, Little uses the term "political culture" much as it is used in this essay. See especially Little, Understanding Peasant China , pp. 183-184.

23. See especially Keith Michael Baker, ed., The Political Culture of the Old Regime (Oxford: Pergamon, 1987); Colin Lucas, ed., The Political Culture of the French Revolution (Oxford: Pergamon, 1988); and Francois Furet and Mona Ozouf, eds., The Transformation of Political Culture, 1789-1848 (Oxford: Pergamon, 1989).

24. Ibid.

25. Baker, "Introduction," Political Culture , p. xii. It is worth noting in passing that scholars working in various parts of the world have begun using the term "political culture" in the sense Baker describes. This is true, for example, within Latin American studies, a field that (like Chinese studies) was once heavily influenced by the Almond and Verba approach, as well as other related theories that stressed deeply ingrained national predispositions toward certain types of political behavior. Recent and forthcoming studies of Latin America that stress themes related to those addressed in this volume (and use the term "political culture" in a similar fashion) include Gilbert Joseph and Daniel Nugent, eds., Everyday Forms of State Formation: Revolution and the Negotiation of Rule in Modern Mexico (Durham: Duke University Press, 1994); and Peter Guardino, Peasants, Politics, and the Formation of Mexico's National State: Guerrero, 1800-1857 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, forthcoming), the author of which explicitly associates his use of the term "political culture" with Keith Baker's approach. See also the discussion of political culture in Jeffrey L. Gould, To Lead as Equals: Rural Protest and Political Consciousness in Chinandega, Nicaragua, 1912-1979 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press), pp. 188-189, which stresses the need to pay close attention to the complex ways that elite and popular cultural traditions intersect with and diverge from each other.

26. He Jinshan, Guan Hongzhi, Zhang Lijia, and Guo Chengqi, Taibei xueyun (The Taipei student movement) (Taipei: China Times Press, 1990), pp. 18, 32, 46, and 94-95.

©Copyright Westview Press. All Rights Reserved. Westview Press, 5500 Central Ave., Boulder, CO 80301-2877 Tel: (303) 444-3541 Fax: (303) 449-3356

Home | Film/Media | Tour | Themes | Chronology | Readings/Links | Site Map | Chinese
Frontline | ITVS | Center for Asian American Media | PBS

© Long Bow Group, Inc . All Rights Reserved.