You are here

Cultural Unity, Variation and the State in Ming and Qing Times: A Contribution to the Debate on Standardization and Orthopraxy

Donald SUTTON (Carnegie Mellon University)
Full text (PDF): 

This paper responds to the October 2008 critique, in this journal, by David Faure and Liu Zhiwei. Their target was our Modern China issue (2007) reconsidering James L. Watson’s arguments in the 1980s. We find ourselves closer to Watson than to them on the related questions of cultural standardization and orthodoxy in early modern China. Unlike us, Professors Faure and Liu reject Watson’s term orthopraxy and ignore his argument that in reforming religion the state limited its efforts to practice rather than doctrine. They also reject our refinements of Watson, including the concepts pseudo-standardization and heteroprax standardization. They argue that local and individual claims to being orthodox, or correct, or legitimate, no matter what their objective basis, accumulated under different regional conditions and, over time, in some still undetermined way, produced cultural unity. Without denying the role of such claims in the ultimate acceptance of “Chineseness”, we think that the Faure/Liu terminology and interpretation make it difficult or impossible to explore the spread of cultural commonalities and the respective roles of the state, local elites and other locals in creating them. We emphasize that because the process of cultural standardization was extremely slow and still very incomplete by the late Qing, the reproduction of diversity in popular culture cannot be ignored. We favor a research agenda that gives due attention to a variety of local interests in fashioning cultural change, and especially to the role of affect and of status competition in the context of local tradition.

Journal of History and Anthropology