Tradition, Change and the Weilongwu Compound: Kinship, State and Local Elites in Southeastern China

Yixin Li

Deposited 2014

Abstract
Based on the author's long term fieldwork from 2005 to 2008 in Qiaoxiang, a rural Hakka community in Xingning County, Guangdong Province, Southeastern China, this dissertation examines how the revival of tradition in contemporary China can be understood through the dynamic interaction and negotiation among state, villagers and local elites.
This ethnography describes the history and reality of tumultuous social change in the community, especially in Maoist and post-Maoist times, and shows how the villagers living in weilongwu, a characteristic lineage or multi-family compound of the Hakka heartland, have managed to mobilize political, social and cultural resources to deal with outside forces in contemporary China. I analyze how the Maoist state's attempts to break down kinship ties failed and how kinship's importance has been maintained and strengthened in both collective and post-collective periods.
This dissertation focuses on how the participation and collaboration of ordinary villagers and village elites facilitates a vigorous revival of tradition, including the establishment of organizations at the level of lineage and community, the reediting of genealogies, the rebuilding and renovation of ancestral halls, and most importantly, the reactivation of kinship rituals. I demonstrate how the active engagement and complicated entanglement of socialist state, overseas power and other contemporary forces has shaped and reshaped the social and cultural landscape of the local community.
I argue that the revival of tradition is by no means a remnant of the past or a total invention; instead, traditions are forming within the fluctuating context of Late Imperial legacy, state imposition and uncertain modernity. I also argue that the ordinary villagers are not passive subjects of domination by state power or other forces; instead, they are sophisticated activists possessing the strategic competence and wisdom to deal with the circumstances in which they live. In this sense, tradition should be taken as the practice of ordinary people in an ongoing process of inventing and becoming.