Translating Chinese citizenship

Authored by: Zhonghua Guo

Routledge Handbook of Global Citizenship Studies

Print publication date:  June  2014
Online publication date:  June  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415519724
eBook ISBN: 9780203102015
Adobe ISBN: 9781136237966


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Citizenship has long been considered a unique product of Western politics and culture. Some scholars believe that its origin can be traced back to ancient Greek city-states, with the political institutions and culture that existed in Sparta and Athens nurturing citizenship (Heater, 1999: 44; Riesenberg, 1994). In Weber’s seminal discussion about citizenship, medieval cities were regarded as the cradle of citizenship. According to Weber, although cities also existed throughout China, India, the Ottoman Empire and elsewhere, with some even having a very prosperous economy and large population, they lacked the necessary conditions for the birth of citizenship. These conditions were listed as: first, the disruption of clan and taboo barriers; second, the formation of fraternal associations made up by city residents holding a monopoly over city politics(Weber 1958: 91–108). These two prerequisites meant the city could overcome the constraint of the clan and taboo and establish the ‘oath-bound confederation’ based on equal status, rights, and obligations. On the basis of the oath-bound confederation, city communities were formed and citizenship thus came into being. As a contrast, cities in Asian societies were considered to be incompatible with these prerequisites. Weber said, ‘[Foremost] among the reasons for the peculiar freedom of urbanites in the Mediterranean city in contrast to the Asiatic is the absence of magical and animistic caste and sib constraints’ (Weber 1958: 97). ‘In China and India … Citizenship as a specific status quality of the urbanite is missing’ (Weber 1958: 83).

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