Abstract Using a social survey of 556 individuals, my dissertation examines how Chinese urban residents remember the past and how they think of and act toward current laws. By linking Chinese people's different understandings of law with larger cultural themes, this project provides socio-legal scholars with the theoretical tool to articulate the complex cultural environments in which people experience, think about, and act toward law. In addition, the findings also suggest that it is fruitful to deconstruct the concept of law based on the social relations it seeks to regulate. Finally, my dissertation further expands collective memory research by revising theories on cohort formation and connecting memories of the past to attitudes toward present laws. In my first empirical chapter, I treat collective memories of the past as a core component of culture, situating the study of law in specific historical and cultural context. My survey results show that memories most influential in shaping people's understanding of law and the state are those that resonate with nationalist sentiments. This applies especially to memories of resistance against foreign invaders. Memories of these events contribute to people's support for laws that strengthen centralized state power. The next two chapters examine how people's perception of law's legitimacy is associated with their tendency to obey the law and mobilize it for dispute resolution. My research reveals that Chinese people's ideas of and potential behaviors toward law vary across different social relations. Specifically, family laws are considered to be much more legitimate than laws that regulate state-citizen relations or economic transactions. This difference in the perceptions of law translates into varying tendencies to report compliance or mobilization of the different types of laws. While the perception of law's legitimacy is positively associated with tendencies to obey and use the law, this is true to a much greater degree for family laws than for other types of law. Interestingly, people report that they are least likely to litigate for conflict within the family, despite the high level of legitimacy they attribute to laws in this social sphere. These chapters also report on how legal ideas and potential behaviors vary across respondents. These findings have implications for policy makers and activists who seek to change the legal system in China. On the one hand, reformers could repurpose these existing cultural themes to promote the legitimacy of their causes. On the other hand, the authoritarian state of China very shrewdly co-opted these discursive resources as well. The Chinese government has invested considerable resources in establishing its image as a rising super power and thus taps into the increasing national pride among Chinese citizens. To counter such nationalistic narratives could thus be the mission of activists and social reformers. Methodologically, my dissertation borrows from the culturalist tradition in collective memories study. Bearing in mind the pitfalls of oversimplification, I designed my survey to cover a wide range of cultural discourses. This has provided new insights into the larger context of contemporary China, context that has been either unduly neglected or misunderstood in previous research.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. June 2015. Major: Sociology. Advisors: Elizabeth Boyle, Joachim Savelsberg. 1 computer file (PDF); v, 212 pages.
Remembering The Faces Of Law: Collective Memories And Legal Consciousness In Transitional China.
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