Rediscovering Chinese “Urbanity” through Folklore Studies

China Social Science Review

No.1, 2022


Rediscovering Chinese “Urbanity” through Folklore Studies



Xu Zhena


The question of whether Chinese cities are ‘urban’ is a fundamental theoretical issue related to the scope and purpose of urban history research and disciplinary independence. In recent years, the rise of socio-cultural history has opened up new perspectives on the study of urban history. In particular, the methodologies and successful experiences of historical anthropology in folklore studies may bring new approaches to the research of the “urban nature” of Chinese cities. For example, a shift towards the “human” could facilitate urban history researchers’ evaluation of China’s urbanity from a more humanistic social and cultural perspective, thus passing beyond the material aspects of the city to its spiritual heart. Observing the structural elements of Chinese cities in terms of structural processes can provide a solid basis for the existence of urbanity in China, while the collection and use of urban folk documents and oral history materials can facilitate the conversion of urban history researchers from scholarly thinking to the thinking of the populace and enable bottom-up exploration of Chinese urbanity, thus contributing to a breakthrough on this issue.