The National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) is a research center for ethnology and cultural anthropology.

Social Change and Reconstruction in China: Practice and Representation of Revolution

Joint Research Coordinator HAN Min

Reserch Theme List


This research takes as its subject for anthropological research the most important key word that permeates modern Chinese history, namely revolution, and how it has been put into practice. Since the birth of the People’s Republic of China and the establishment of a socialist regime, major changes have taken place in the former social structure, legal system, culture, the arts and religious beliefs. As the socialist revolution became more ideological in nature, it was put into practice in daily life in such a way as to reach down to the roots of Chinese society. In China's modern history revolution has become another form of tradition. Even now after the transition to a socialist market economy, the history of the socialist revolution and its practice have not disappeared, but instead have seen a metamorphosis in expression and consumption in fields like tourism and the arts.
That being so, this research gathered researchers from anthropology, folklore, history, sociology, literature and ethnomusicology. Through case studies we investigated issues of discontinuance and continuance between the traditions spawned by the socialist revolution and the traditions which proceeded it, while considering the meaning and practice of revolution, including the Revolution of 1911(Double-ten Revolution), in modern Chinese history.
This research, both basic and comprehensive, examines the practice and representation of China’s socialistrevolution and how this revolution has contributed to the building of models in creating a nation and popular culture.

Research Results

This research committee started by taking as the object of anthropological research the practice and representation of the twentieth century Chinese revolution which mobilized one-quarter of the world’s population, and found it possible to create an interdisciplinary research forum for considering the topic. Specifically, while emphasizing the following three issues, we investigated the meaning and essential nature of China’s socialist revolution.
(1) Social change and continuity in the revolution
First, research team members focused on popular religious beliefs, religious rituals, folk performing arts, kinship, naming rules, funerals and burial systems (tombs) and other old customs. The team compared the various policies of the Nationalist and Communist regimes. From the perspectives of Western-style modernization, the Russian Revolution and the formative processes of socialist states as well as globalization, the team reported on revolutionary practice and modernization in the general public, the clergy, individuals connected with the performing arts or the cinema, and central and local governments.
(2) Formation of new concepts, systems, images of heroes, drama, clothing, and folk customs and changes caused by the revolution
Team members looked at how the Nationalist Revolution of 1911 in China and the Communist Revolution caused the concepts of dress to change, gave birth to national people’s uniforms, and created images of new heroes who embodied the revolutionary spirit and ethics. The members also investigated how various other themes, such as the political nature, artistry and modernity of the model revolutionary drama, as well as the image of the Chinese body, as reflected in propaganda and modern art.
(3) Remembrances of the revolution and structural changes in the Age of Globalization
The team looked at changes in remembrance of the images of (1) the moral idol model worker/soldier Lei Feng who was believed to embody the socialist ideology, and (2) Mao Zedong who symbolized the Communist regime in terms of age group and class background. We did so to be able to discuss these images from the standpoints of Chinese culture theory, national remembrance and state staging. We investigated images in tourism in terms of production and consumption, and looked at the phenomenon of red travel, which commemorates revolutionary history sites, the revolutionary spirit sites and other places that have become the focus of the tourism. Our aim was to consider the strata geared to making revolutionary representation an object of consumption. Based on examples of the cities of Beijing and Qingdao, we analyzed the movements of population within urban areas and structural changes to neighborhoods resulting from globalization, and investigated the direction of change for local societies in major urban areas within the framework of a socialist state.
We invited anthropologists from South Korea and China as guest lecturers. They presented reports on the history of and latest trends in anthropological research on China. Through frank and lively discussions, we delved into the new possibilities for China research from the standpoint of East Asian comparisons.