The Fate of Locality in Modern China: Changes and Continuity

Conference: AAS-in-Asia2020 (AAS-in-Asia2020)
Title: The Fate of Locality in Modern China: Changes and Continuity
Stream: History
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Yongtao Du, Oklahoma State University, United States (organizer, presenter)
Lifeng Li, Nanjing University, China (presenter)
Xiaopo Zhang, Anhui University, China (presenter)
Woyu Liu, Nanjing University, China (presenter)
Huaiyin Li, University of Texas at Austin, United States (chair, discussant)


Unlike the conventional picture in studies of nationalism in which the dawn of nation-states ushered in the dusk of things local, the emergence of the nation-state in China was not accompanied by a decline of the local. This local-national symbiosis is understandable if we view locality in the Chinese republic as inheritance from the late empire: not self-standing places to be annexed by the newly emerging territorial state, but age-old field administrative entities embedded in an imperial polity, carrying with them enduring localist orientations of the ruling class. This same type of locality also weathered the Nationalist Revolution and GMT rule with success, despite attacks by the “national unity” discourse and suppressions in the state’s centralization efforts. Yet the millennium-long locality-polity relationship, together with the various forms of localist orientations, suffered severe damage after 1949, when the CCP made great progresses in both disempowering locality and cleansing people of local sentiment.
This panel explores the fate of locality in modern China against the background of enduring localism and the distinctive position locality held in traditional China’s spatial order. Li studies the dilemmas rural elites faced between the state and locality from the Qing to the PRC; Zhang analyzes the early republican transformation of local politics in the Lianghuai region; Du explains what made it hard, if not impossible, for a communist cadre to be a local man and inherit the localist orientation of the late imperial gentry; finally Liu analyzes how the “Four Cleanup Movement” reshaped local politics in Mao’s China.