Why Was There No Fashion in Mao’s China? Effects of Politics on Culture in the Case of Chinese Naming Practices
77 Pages Posted: 6 Jul 2011 Last revised: 15 Nov 2015
Date Written: July 4, 2011
We examine the popularity distribution of given names prior, during, and after Mao Zedong’s rule over the People’s Republic of China to clarify how exogenous and endogenous factors act together in shaping cultural change. Whereas recent work in the sociology of culture emphasizes the importance of endogenous processes in explaining fashion (Kaufman 2004), our analysis demonstrates two ways that Mao’s regime impacted cultural expression, even in a domain that was largely untouched by its radical cultural policies: (a) by promoting forms of expression reflecting legitimate political ideologies; and (b) by creating a general feeling of insecurity, whereby citizens fear that any public expression of difference could signal political disloyalty. As argued by Lieberson (2000; Lieberson and Lynn 2003) and developed further in this paper, the latter condition is important because endogenous fashion cycles require a critical mass of individuals who seek to differentiate themselves from common practice. Our analysis suggests how exogenous and endogenous mechanisms interact, with the former setting the conditions for the operation of the latter; our analysis also sheds light on the nature of conformity under authoritarian regimes as well as the social conditions supporting individual expression.
Keywords: Differentiation, fashion, politics, China
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