Working Paper 30

Redefining place in southern Fujian: How ancestral halls and overseas mansions re-appropriate the local from the state

Susanne Brandtstädter

Department ‘Resilience and Transformation in Eurasia’

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Working Paper 30

In post-Mao China, as in many postsocialist countries, the withdrawal of the state from the control of production, the revival of markets and new international investments in rural areas have undermined older moral economies and collectivities based on collective property relations, allowing property rights to become "fuzzy". This paper proposes that processes of place-making play an important part in struggles over social and normative orders, including property rights, which have ensued. Place-making is defined as the symbolic appropriation of the lived-in-environment by a collective, e.g. through the erection of focal markers. This not only reflects a given social and normative order but also creates the environment that makes a certain order more compelling then others. In post-Mao China, the reconstruction of ancestral halls and temples is a pervasive phenomenon in particular in the more developed coastal regions of the Southeast. The paper argues that what we find in these villages is a slow process, in which the "traditional place", defined as the spatial setting of a community of kinship and worship and its institutions are re-appropriating power to define normative and social orders and notions of collectivity from the institutions of the local state. This has also involved the building of a new collective person out of collective property, whereby private property and socialist collective property are being transformed into lineage and temple property. This process is not independent of the state and local cadres but the cumulative outcome of the actions of villagers and state agents alike. I therefore propose the term colonisation (also because of its spatial overtones), rather then resistance, to characterise this increasing encroachment by local institutions on geographical, social and normative space formally controlled by state institutions.

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