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Tracing ChinaA Forty-Year Ethnographic Journey$
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Helen F. Siu

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9789888083732

Published to Hong Kong Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.5790/hongkong/9789888083732.001.0001

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Cultural Identity and the Politics of Difference in South China

Cultural Identity and the Politics of Difference in South China

(p.30) 2 Cultural Identity and the Politics of Difference in South China
Tracing China

Helen F. Siu

Hong Kong University Press

The term “China” presents many faces and meanings. The wealth of differentiating experiences beneath the surface of an enduring, naturalizing uniformity encompassed by the term has intrigued scholars, prompting them to call for analytical tools that illuminate the paradox at various historical junctures. A basic assumption is required, which forms the basis of this paper: “Chineseness” is not an immutable set of beliefs and practices but a process that captures a wide range of emotions and states of being. It is a civilization, a place, a polity, a history, and a people who acquire identities through association with these characteristics. I will highlight crucial moments in the construction of cultural identities in a region loosely termed South China (Huanan), where different meanings of being Chinese are selectively pursued. Instead of presenting reified, objectively identifiable traits and boundaries imposed on a population, I stress their fluid and negotiated qualities as perceived by those asserting them. However circumstantial the contestations, and however duplicitous these identities may have seemed, their emergence is also rooted in particular social, political, and economic relationships.

Keywords:   Rural-urban divide, China, Hong Kong, Anthropology, Social changes, Political changes, Identity formation, History, Culture, modernity

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