Sherman Cochran and David Strand, editors. Cities in Motion: Interior, Coast, and Diaspora in Transnational China. Berkeley: University of California, Centre for Chinese Studies, 2011. 313 pp. Paperback $25.00, ISBN 978-1-557-29089-2.
This is a bold and fascinating collection of essays by a group of distinguished authors who work in different areas of modern Chinese history. The themes that join their work together are movement and migration. The volume makes a strong and direct recognition of the key role of migration, in all its forms, in modern Chinese history. It goes far beyond the standard treatments of migration in Chinese history, where migration usually refers to overseas Chinese and ignores movement within China. This treatment accepts tacitly the Confucian convention that people are so tightly stuck to their home places that migration is not something that they do willingly, but only when forced to do so. Actual history shows exactly the opposite, that people have been on the move since prehistorical times, that the movements are voluntary as well as forced, and that successive governments have been the major sponsors of migration, both to settle new lands and protect the borders, and also, coincidentally, as a means of punishment. This book rectifies the convention.
This book does something even more important than rectifying the stability convention. It expands the concept of migration from being limited to the movement of people to cover the movement of religions, commodities, ideas, customs, fashions, and a host of other influences. In a society so heavily influenced by ideas and religions that came in to China from outside (Buddhism, Islam, Marxism), this idea seems obvious, but it has often been ignored. This book provides all the evidence on the influence of migration, both within China and coming from outside. It has essays on the migration of ideas and religious beliefs (Robert Weller and Julia Huang); on migration and style (Vimalin Rujivacharakaul and Karl Gerth); on migration and war (Kristin Stapleton and Allison Rottman); on migration and gender (Madeline Hsu); on migration of systems (Klaus Muhlhahn); on money, trade, and migration (Breet Sheehan); and on migration after death (Caroline Reeves and Elizabeth Sinn). The essays are well written and well edited, which makes them much more lively and readable than is the case with many collections of essays.
Beyond the general theme of migration, the chapters are full of cross-cutting ideas, in which migration becomes the vehicle to discuss a host of other themes. One example is Madeline Hsu's penetrating study of the social lives of bachelor emigrants and the evolution of homosociality (this rather clunky word is used to describe the relations within all-male communities; it is distinct from homosexuality). All-male societies were common in China, from the army to monasteries to bandit/outlaw groups, and much of what Hsu has to say could be used in discussing them. Elizabeth Sinn and Caroline Reeves discuss the crucial importance of identity in terms of what happens to the remains of migrants after their death; the idea of being buried away from home was unthinkable until very recently. Sinn's article shows the complexity and sophistication of the mechanisms that took remains home. When remains are buried away from home, as in Vancouver today, it is a sign of a profound shift in identity, the recognition of a new home.
One addition to this book would be a clearer outline of the historical context and sequence. …