Introduction: Practicing citizenship in contemporary China

Sophia Woodman, Zhonghua Guo

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Citizenship in China—and elsewhere in the global South—has been perceived as either a distorted echo of the ‘real’ democratic version in Europe and North America, or an orientalized ‘other’ that defines what citizenship is not. In contrast, adopting a ‘connected histories’ perspective makes Chinese citizenship a constitutive part of a modernity that is still unfolding. Since the nineteenth century, concerns about citizenship have been central to debates about the building of state and society in China. Some of these concerns are echoed in key tensions related to the practices of citizenship in China today, particularly in three areas: a state preference for sedentarism and governing citizens in place vs. growing mobility, sometimes facilitated by the state; a perception that state-building and development requires a strong state vs. ideas and practices of participatory citizenship; and submission of the individual to the ‘collective’ (state, community, village, family etc.) vs. the rising salience of conceptions of self-development and self-making projects. Exploring manifestations of these tensions can contribute to thinking about citizenship beyond China, including the role of the local in forming citizenship orders; how individualization works in the absence of liberal individualism; and how ‘social citizenship’ is increasingly becoming a reward to ‘good citizens’, rather than a mechanism for achieving citizen equality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)737-754
JournalCitizenship Studies
Issue number7
Early online date20 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 3 Oct 2017


  • Chinese citizenship
  • orientalism
  • connected histories
  • social citizenship
  • individualization


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