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Standardization or Legitimization? Perception of the Unity of Chinese Culture from the Standpoint of Popular Beliefs

Special Issue
David W. FAURE (The Chinese University of Hong Kong)
Zhiwei LIU (Sun Yat-sen University)
1 & 2
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This article is a response to Modern China, vol. 33 no. 1 (2007), a special issue devoted to "Ritual, Cultural Standardization, and Orthopraxy in China: Reconsidering James L. Watson's Ideas." It acknowledges the diversity of local cultures as seen in ritual, and relates it to the perceived unity of Chinese culture. We think it is obvious and beyond worthwhile argument that local traditions have continued, and we believe this was Watson's starting point in describing the standardization of rituals in the context of popular culture. We think it should be pointed out that whether or not local rituals were standardized, they could be legitimized through real or imagined master-disciple transmission, through the power of writing and the authority of the state. The long duration of the legitimizing process over very large and varied geographic regions produces much scope for the local adoption of overlapping but not identical bodies of legitimizing symbols. We argue that rather than reiterating the existence of variations between local practices and perceived unities, students of Chinese culture might understand better the complex history of the making of the perceived unity of Chinese culture by documenting the history of the adoption of legitimizing symbols and comparing these histories across local cultures.

Journal of History and Anthropology