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

Socio-cultural Reconstruction in China: Perspectives on Glocalization

Joint Research Coordinator HAN Min

Reserch Theme List


glocalization, cultural heritage, cultural nationalism


In discussing modernity and social change in modern China, revolution is one of the most important concepts to consider. A previous joint research project focused on this critical key word, revolution, to study how the concept of revolution permeated modern China. With this key word we considered the following among other questions: (1) representation and actualization of the revolution in clothing, art, narratives and movies; (2) reconstruction of social systems and customs/etiquette; and (3) memories of and structural change to the revolution during an age of globalization. Through these research efforts we were able to investigate to a degree the discourse concerning revolutionary ideology, the process of creation and actual form of various systems, practices and representations, discourse and various systems spawned by the Hsin-Hai Revolution (1911 Revolution) and socialist revolution (in 1949 and after) that followed, as well as disruption and continuation of traditions that preceded the revolutions.

This research aims to build on the previous research by considering contemporary China’s modernization and social change from the standpoint of glocalization. Amidst the trend towards global economic activities, there is problem consciousness concerning cultural globalization and localization that are occurring simultaneously. Amidst uniform globalization of politics, economics and culture, individuals are more and more becoming conscious of their localness, ethnicity, nationality, roots and traditions, their inheritance and history to search and rebuild. These can be summarized under the slogan, "think globally, act locally." (Robertson, 1997: 16)

This research will be implemented by a team of 18 anthropologists, whose subject of study is China. In an age of globalization and under a national policy of creating a harmonious society, that is, a society based on harmony, the anthropologists will consider how histories of civil affairs, families, localities, ethnic groups and the State, traditions, folkways, multiple value systems and intellectual systems are coexisting, reconstructed, represented (symbolized), consumed and disseminated. They will also consider the forms and mechanisms for glocalization in Chinese society.

Research Results

In accord with the basic concept behind this joint research project, during a three and a half year period, members of the group reported on their research, received comments from those engaged in other types of research, and discussed their results with the group as a whole. The following three topics, all shared areas of concern, became the focus of vigorous discussion.

  1. China's globalization from a historical perspective
    Iguchi Junko examined ties between the foreign concessions and urban culture in Shanghai, the focal point of China's globalization in the 19th and early 20th centuries, looking in particular at the reception of Western music through theaters in the foreign concessions and musical education in schools.  Nakao Katsumi examined the roles of Christianity and colonialism in shaping ethnology in China during the early modern period, focusing in particular on the role of French missionaries in the formation of Chinese folklore studies.
  2. Government-led nationalism and the reconstruction of local culture
    Here our research drew attention to the importance of central and local governments as actors promoting globalization, examining official cultural strategies to clarify the relation of programs to promote Chinese, ethnic, and local identity to cultural nationalism.  In China, whose socialist revolution took place within a nation-state framework, the state continues to exert a strong influence on society and culture, even in an era in which globalization is weakening attachment to the nation.  Case studies illustrating these trends included Qin Zhaoxiong's analysis of the selective revitalization of  the Confucian classics, Hsieh and Li's investigation of adjustments made to integrate holidays celebrating the Communist Revolution with traditional annual festivals, Yokoyama Hiroko's  analysis of the creation of the concept of cultural neoteny, Takayama Yoko's investigation into changes due to globalization and the rise of tourism in bronze statues erected at tourist destinations to celebrate modern China and its heroes, and Watanabe Yoshio's examination of how Chinese culture is changing under the impact of market economics, talking about the Chinese government's strategy to improve the competitiveness of Chinese athletes in global sporting events to maintain cultural cohesiveness while restructuring China's social order.
    While local governments fell in line with central government cultural policy, efforts were also made to revitalize local culture.  These included designation as cultural assets of Shaten folksong (Naganuma Sayaka), the Xiang Yu Festival (Han Min), Henan street festivals and local opera (Chen Zong Hua) and traditional Uighur theater in Shanxi Province (Taku Shimizu), the use of embroidered silk balls as a cultural symbol (Shigeyuki Tsukata), and the creation of cultural ecology preservation zones (Ruan Yun Xing, Zhejiang University).
  3. Corporate and individual-led globalization and localization
    The members of this research project were also interested in the roles of corporations and individuals as actors promoting globalization.  He Bin examined business-academic tie-ups with a funeral company overseas involved in starting a new funeral business.    Murata Kazuhiko analyzed the training required when transferring modern crematorium technology. Kawaguchi Yuki studied ritual spaces in homes, while Pan Hongli examined religious boundary-crossing among Chinese in Fujian Province in China and in the Philippines. Si Qinfu studied “Global Village” and “Friends of Nature” as examples of Chinese NGOs. Zhou Xing analyzed how socialist propaganda became a source of local cultural branding, looking at how paintings created by farmers became symbols of rural culture.  Gao Min Jie explored various aspects of the urbanization and globalization of minority peoples in China, including minority languages, Mandarin, English and Japanese as strategic options for language study. Sawai Mitsuo described the Uighur Autonomous Region in Ningxia Province, while Shimizu Toru examined changes in religion and ritual involving bimo shamans among the Liang Shan Yi, a people who live in Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces, stimulating discussion of localization strategies aimed at rebuilding and ensuring the survival of minority cultures.

Participants in this joint research project included Chinese scholars from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Beijing University, and Zhejiang University, who participated vigorously in debates over new possibilities for research in China conducted from comparative perspectives. Among the possibilities considered was an international research forum to which scholars from East Asia, Thailand, Mongolia, Russia and Kazakhstan would be invited. The goal of the forum would be to promote international joint research by scholars with shared interests in the relationship of globalization to cultural transmission.