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China Inside Out

Pál Nyíri
Joana Breidenbach


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Bourdieu, Pierre (1930–2002)

1French sociologist who has influenced, along with Foucault, much of recent anthropology and cultural studies. Bourdieu rejects the conventional distinction between objective and subjective causes of social practices. Instead, in his Theory of Practice, he argues that practices arise from the operation of habitus. Habitus is the “embodiment in individual actors of systems of social norms, understanding and patterns of behavior, which, while not wholly determining action (...) ensure that individuals are more disposed to act in some ways than others” (Joe Painter, “Pierre Bourdieu,” in Mike Crang and Nigel Thrift (eds.), Thinking Space. London and New York: Routledge, 2000, p. 242). Another of his most widely adopted ideas is that the concept of capital should be seen not only in economic terms, but also as applicable to a range of other resources such as knowledge and status, and these kinds of capital can be converted into each other. Cultural capital refers to knowledge and skills acquired through socialization or education.

Boxer Uprising (1900)

2Anti-Christian, antiforeign peasant uprising in northern China that ended with the siege of the foreign legations in Peking. Participants were mostly poor peasants who practiced a kind of martial art that gave the name “boxer” to the movement. The uprising ended when a combined Western military expedition entered Peking.

3Based on Jonathan Spence, The Search for Modern China. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Co., 1990, p. 790.

chain migration

4The phenomenon where earlier migrants to a certain destination (“seed community”) trigger and facilitate further migration of family members and other migrants from the same area of origin.

Chiang Kai-shek (1887–1975)

5Military and political leader of the Kuomintang after the death of Sun Yat-sen. Joined the anti-Manchu Tongmenghui as a military student in Japan. Sent by Sun Yat-sen to the Soviet Union for military training in 1923 and named leader of the Whampoa military academy upon his return. After leading the Northern Expedition, he set up a Nationalist government in 1928 and fought for the next twenty years against warlords, the Japanese, and the Communists for the control of China. President of the Kuomintang government on Taiwan from 1949 until his death.

6Based on Jonathan Spence, The Search for Modern China. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Co., 1990, p. 791.

cultural capital

7According to Bourdieu, just as social classes and groups have unequal access to money (capital) and hence to power, so they possess unequal cultural capital and symbolic power. Bourdieu concentrated primarily on the education system, which operates as a mechanism for the distribution and grading of diverse cultural capital and thus reproduces underlying class relations. According to Bourdieu, a dominant class has the symbols (language, culture, etc.) through which it can establish hegemony. The working classes may obtain the qualifications necessary for a job, but the employer may prefer certain ill-defined social characteristics which are a function of the applicant’s cultural capital.

deterritorialized nation-state

8De-territorialized nation-state building is ... a form of post-colonial nationalism that reflects and reinforces the division of the entire globe into nation-states. ... To see oneself in a diaspora is to imagine oneself as being outside a territory, part of a population exiled from a homeland. ... In counterdistinction is the de-territorialized nation-state, in which the nation’s people may live anywhere in the world and still not live outside the state (Glick Schiller et al. 1994: 269).

Durkheim, Émile (1858–1917)

9Generally regarded as the founder of the French school of social science, he introduced to social science the requirement of grounding theory in empirical research. He did not himself do fieldwork but, holding that facts become meaningful only when the rules governing their relationships are clarified, processed field data collected by anthropologists, travelers, and missionaries. His work ranged from the Eskimos to the Papua, from suicide to the social division of labor, and influenced the study of law, economics, Sinology, linguistics, anthropology, history, and art.



flexible accumulation

11Term introduced by geographer David Harvey (1989). Starting in the early seventies, increased international economic competition led to the replacement of the old Fordist regime of accumulation (characterized by the social contract of big business, big labor, and the state). In the new flexible regime of accumulation, corporations have become much more internationally mobile, thanks in part to global communication networks and a financial system with floating exchange rates. Production now is increasingly decentralized, the numerous parts of a product being made in various places around the world, by a flexible workforce consisting of subcontracted workers with mostly low wages and few benefits.

flexible citizenship

12The strategies and effects of mobile managers, technocrats, and professionals seeking to both circumvent and benefit from different nation-state regimes by selecting different sites for investments, work, and family relocation (Ong 1999b: 112).

Foucault, Michel (1926–1984)

13French structuralist philosopher. Foucault studied the concepts and codes through which society works and includes or excludes certain groups (such as concepts of insanity, crime, or deviancy). Foucault’s theory of power focuses on such conceptual systems, or regimes of truth, which the state or an elite imposes on others in order to discipline them.

Four Modernizations

14The program of the Chinese Communist Party, announced in 1978, to modernize agriculture, industry, national defense, and science and technology. China’s opening to the West and the transition to a market economy are officially seen as part of the Four Modernizations. Wei Jingsheng, the most famous political dissident in contemporary China, who was first imprisoned in 1979, claimed that the Four Modernizations would remain ineffective until a fifth modernization, democratization, was implemented.

Freud, Sigmund (1856–1939)

15Austrian neurologist, founder of psychoanalysis. He expanded his psychological theory to the study of society, religion, and art, linking social behavior to subconscious libidinous desires and fears.


16In Siam Mapped: The History of the Geo-Body of a Nation, Thongchai Winichakul (1994) describes the ‘geo-body’ as the territoriality of a nation and the collective concept of self of its people. The constitutive elements of nationhood are the geo-body, the map, and the history, and these foundations (both temporal and spatial) are the conditionality that dictates any invented essence (of language, race, religion, class, political economy, etc.).


17Guanxi means “connections” or “nexus” in Chinese. In reportage and business literature about China, guanxi is often portrayed as a peculiarly Chinese cultural institution of cultivating relationships with the understanding of a future economic, political, or personal benefit.


18In Pierre Bourdieu’s Theory of Practice, habitus is the “embodiment in individual actors of systems of social norms, understanding and patterns of behavior, which, while not wholly determining action (...) ensure that individuals are more disposed to act in some ways than others” (Joe Painter, “Pierre Bourdieu”, in Mike Crang and Nigel Thrift (eds.), Thinking Space. London and New York: Routledge, 2000, p. 242).

How the Steel was Tempered (1932–34)

19“A novel about the establishment of Soviet power and the heroic life of Komsomol member Pavel Korchagin ... one of the best works of socialist realism” (Sovetskii Entsiklope-dicheskii Slovar’ [Soviet Encyclopedical Dictionary]. Moscow: Sovetskaia Entsiklopediia, 1981, p. 957). Author Nikolai Ostrovsky fought in the civil war and died of the wounds sustained there; he was an icon of socialist realist literature.

Hundred Days’ Reforms (Summer 1898)

20Three-month period during which Kang Youwei, Liang Qichao and other reformist thinkers influenced the Guangxu Emperor to issue edicts on political and economic reform. Ended when Empress Dowager Cixi staged a coup, imprisoning the emperor and executing six reformers. Other reformers went into exile.

21Based on Jonathan Spence, The Search for Modern China. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Co., 1990, p. 796.

Katō Hiroyuki (1836–1916)

22Japanese political theorist, tutor to the emperor, first president of Tokyo Imperial University. Kato exerted a strong influence on the shaping of the ideology of the Meiji Restoration after the fall of the shogunate in 1868. First an advocate of the “natural rights” of man, he later became an etatist and developed a theory of the “rights of the strong”, drawing on German social evolutionary theories and published in German in 1893. His ideas influenced Liang Qichao’s understanding of imperialism as the necessary outcome of the competition between nations.

Kuomintang (KMT, Guomindang, National People’s Party)

23Kuomintang is the successor to Sun Yat-sen’s Tongmenghui, formed in 1912. Led by Sun Yat-sen until his death in 1925, the party won the 1912 elections but assumed actual power over most of China only in 1928 under Chiang Kai-shek, Sun’s successor. Leaning left during the twenties, the party’s ideology shifted toward the right in the thirties, although Sun’s “Three People’s Principles” (nationalism, democracy, welfare) remained its motto. In 1949, the KMT lost the civil war and was routed to Taiwan, which it continued to govern until it lost the general election in 2001.

late imperial China

24Refers to the period all the way from the Song Dynasty (960–1279) till the end of the Qing in 1911. It is a categorization that comes from the Japanese, who felt that China had achieved a certain degree of commodification, if not a capitalist society, in the Song period.

Lei Feng

25Young soldier whose selfless service to Mao Zedong and the Communist party has been upheld as a role model in various propaganda campaigns since 1963.

Liang Qichao (1873–1929)

26Essayist, historian, reformer and perhaps one of the most influential intellectuals in China in the first half of the twentieth century. Exiled to Japan after the conservative coup of 1898, he used his writings to raise support for the reformers’ cause among overseas Chinese and foreign governments. Initially a supporter of his teacher Kang Youwei’s ideas of constitutional monarchy, he later advocated republicanism.

long-distance nationalism

27According to Benedict Anderson, “a rapidly spreading phenomenon whereby well-off immigrants to the rich, advanced countries (and their children) are becoming key sources of money, guns and extremist propaganda in their distant, putative countries of origin—in perfect safety and without any form of accountability” (Benedict Anderson, “Exodus”, Critical Inquiry 20, No. 2 (1994), pp. 314–27).

Marx, Karl (1818–1883)

28German social thinker, economist, philosopher, and politician. According to his dialectical model, socioeconomic contradictions within each social formation in history inevitably lead to its replacement with a new one; thus revolution and communism should replace the capitalist system based on class exploitation. Marx’s theories influenced the development of both socialist and Communist politics for at least a half century after his death, although the state ideologies of Communist regimes had little to do with them.

May Fourth movement

29The May Fourth movement derives its name from the student protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing on 4 May 1919 against the unfair terms of the Treaty of Versailles that granted Japan rights over the Shandong Peninsula. The term also refers to the period of iconoclastic intellectual ferment—more properly called New Culture movement—that followed the protests, which included movements to adopt the use of vernacular Chinese in literature and the exploration of different forms of Western cultural and political models. Based on Jonathan Spence, The Search for Modern China. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Co., 1990, pp. 800–801.

Mencius (372 – around 289 BC)

30One of the most important followers of Confucius. Mencius emphasized innate moral virtue over imposed propriety, arguing that man’s basic nature was good, and the purpose of self-cultivation was to recover one’s original “child’s mind”. He argued that it was the foremost duty of the Confucian gentleman to follow his own moral commands, including overthrowing an inhumane ruler. The duty of a ruler was to create an environment in which his subjects could cultivate their moral selves. The foremost virtue of a ruler was thus benevolence.

moral economy

31In his study of peasants in Southeast Asia, James C. Scott constructs a model of patron-client exchanges that is morally acceptable to villagers because it is based on the assumption that their patron will guarantee their collective security in times of trouble. Scott claims that the agrarian moral order accepted social inequality because patrons provided crucial social and material guarantees to peasants in return for their labor, services, and loyalty. In a moral economy system, the subordinated groups perceive the unequal exchanges as collaborative and morally legitimate because they ensure security for all (Ong 1999b: 70). In James Scott’s “moral economy” of the peasant, “the right to subsistence of the entire peasant community takes precedence over individual interests, and village institutions typically protect the collective by redistributing the wealth of the rich. The opposite point of view, identified most recently with Samuel Popkin’s theory of the ‘rational peasant’, views the village as a more open society where peasant families compete with each other to maximize their interests” (Prasenjit Duara, Culture, Power and the State: Rural North China 1900–1942. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988, p. 209).

Neo-Confucianism (daoxue [study of the way])

32A school of thought that shifted the emphasis from philological to philosophical interpretations of the Confucian classics in the Song Dynasty. The school developed by the Cheng brothers (Cheng Hao, 1032–85, and Cheng Yi, 1033–1108) and Zhu Xi (1130–1200), known as the Cheng-Zhu school or lixue, study of the principle, established the Confucian canon as it came down to us and lay the ground to much of today’s standard understanding of Confucianism. The Cheng–Zhu school emphasized the perceptibility and reality of the world and self-fulfillment through self-cultivation and participation in the betterment of society, frequently through reform.

33Although the Cheng–Zhu school stressed ethical concepts such as humaneness (ren), righteousness (yi) and propriety (li) and thus had a communitarian bent that could be interpreted as state-oriented, its ultimate aim was a teleological one: the realization of one’s essential identity or principle (li) that allows one to become with the universal cosmological principle, the Way (dao). The Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties prescribed the use of the Cheng-Zhu canon as the solely correct interpretation in teaching and state examinations. By the late empire, neo-Confucianism had lost its social activism and diversity of thought.

Northern Expedition (1926–1928)

34Military campaign, undertaken by allied Kuomintang-Communist forces (the National Revolutionary Army) under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek, to free China from fragmented warlord rule and unify it under one government. Two years after the launching of the campaign from his base in Canton, China as far north as Mukden was under the nominal control of Chiang, who then established the capital for his Nationalist government in Nanjing.

35Based on Jonathan Spence, The Search for Modern China. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Co., 1990, pp. 801–02.

Opium War (1839–1842)

36Fought between Britain and China; triggered by British outcry against confiscation of British opium, and by Chinese anger at the murder of a Chinese by British and American soldiers. China accepted British demands in the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842.

participant observation

37The classical research method of anthropologists. It involves going “into the field” for an extended period of time and participating in the life of the social scene studied. Participant observation involves establishing rapport in a new community, blending in the social scene as much as possible, so that people go about their business as usual. This makes it possible to collect data normally not easily open to analysis and reduces the problem of reactivity.

Polányi, Karl (Károly) (1886–1964)

38Hungarian-born economic historian and philosopher. He studied chiefly the relationship between economy, society, and the individual and aimed to reconcile the individualistic morality of a society living in the conditions of market economy with Christian socialism.


39See​gengloss/​postm-body.html print capitalism

40The commodification of printed text, which, according to Benedict Anderson, made possible the wide circulation of narratives of the nation, thus creating the sense of a common belonging with people beyond one’s immediate reach.

regimes of truth

41Normative conceptual systems that the state or an elite imposes on others in order to discipline them, defining the “normal” and the “deviant”. Power/knowledge involves a particular kind of truth, which is located within the deep regimes of discourse and practice. The path to freedom requires us to detach ourselves from the regimes of truth associated with the human sciences, because these have become manipulative, if not dominating and enslaving. (Michel Foucault, “Power/Knowledge,” in Colin Gordon (ed.), Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972–1977. New York: Pantheon Books, 1980, p. 153.)


42(Cultural) relativism is a key methodological concept in anthropology. It asserts that values and practices of cultures differ and deserve respect and that the anthropologist should attempt to understand social scenes on their own terms. Extreme relativism argues that cultures should be judged solely by their own standards.

Soloviev, Vladimir Sergeevich (1853–1900)

43Russian philosopher and mystic. Opposed to Western European rationalism and positivism, Soloviev wanted to create a system of Christian thought that could unite the Orthodox and Catholic churches in a theocratic Christian state.

Spencer, Herbert (1820–1903)

44English sociologist and philosopher. Inspired by Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory, he was the first to apply evolutionary theory and the language of biology to explain social phenomena in The Study of Sociology (1872) and The Principles of Sociology (1896). Spencer saw groups of human beings as species that compete for survival.

Sun Yat-sen (Sun Zhongshan, 1866–1925)

45Sun Yat-sen is considered the father of the Chinese republican revolution. Educated in medicine in Hong Kong, he became an anti-Manchu activist and through his Tongmenghui accomplished the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty. The Tongmenghui became the Kuomintang, at the head of which Sun struggled against “warlord” factions to unite China. He accepted the help of the Soviet Union and entered into an alliance with the Communists in 1923.

Taiping rebellion (1851–1864)

46Led by Hong Xiuquan, a military and social movement that sought to overthrow the Qing and establish a “Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace” [Taiping Tianguo] in China. With a combination of quasi-Christian beliefs and communal vision, the Taiping armies spread northeast through the middle Yangzi valley from their base in rural Guangxi province, capturing Nanjing in 1853, where they made their capital for eleven years. They were finally defeated in Qing counterattacks. It is estimated that 20 million Chinese died during the years of the rebellion.

47Based on Jonathan Spence, The Search for Modern China. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Co., 1990, p. 805.

thick description

48Term coined by anthropologist Clifford Geertz to describe the layered, rich, and contextual description of an event or social scene.

Tiananmen massacre

49Armed crackdown by the Chinese government on a prodemocracy, anticorruption student demonstration in Tiananmen Square in Beijing on 4 June 1989. Estimates of the number of student and other civilian victims range from hundreds to over a thousand. The crackdown marked the beginning of a conservative backlash in the Communist party’s leadership, in which Premier Zhao Ziyang was dismissed and put under house arrest.

time-space compression

50Term used by the geographer David Harvey (1989) to refer to a process in which time is reorganized in such a way as to reduce the constraints of space, and vice versa. Time-space compression involves a shortening of time and a ‘shrinking’ of space. We might argue that if people in Manila can experience the same thing at the same time as others in Copenhagen, say a business transaction or a media event, then they live in effect in the same place; space has been annihilated by time compression. Harvey illustrates the process with maps of the world that shrink over time proportionately to the increasing speed of transportation. The world of the 1960s then is about one-fiftieth the size of the world of the sixteenth century because jet aircraft can travel at about fifty times the speed of a sailing ship.

Weber, Max (1864–1920)

51German sociologist, economist, and economic historian, one of the shapers of 20th-century social science. He is best known for his thesis linking capitalism to Protestant ethics, for his concept of ideal types, for his theories of bureaucracy and rule (distinguishing charismatic rule, rule of tradition and rule of law), and for his emphasis on the need to detach social research from value judgment.

Westphalia, peace of

52The basic principle of international relations among European states is associated with the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which allegedly established that each sovereign state was autonomous. However, this was not clarified until its explicit articulation by Emmerich de Vattel in his “The Law of Nations” (1852, p. 155).

Yan Fu (1854–1921)

53First president of the modernized Peking University (1912). He was sent to England by the Qing Government in 1877 to study naval science and later translated Darwin, Thomas Huxley, Spencer, and Adam Smith.

Zhang Taiyan (Zhang Binglin, 1869–1936)

54Radical anti-Manchu nationalist thinker who played a crucial role in constructing and popularizing the identity discourse of the revolutionaries.

© Central European University Press, 2005

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