Scholars in china and chinese studies commonly think of culture as an autonomous and transcendental force that defines agents and institutions and determines the outcome of events. They often conclude that China's allegedly illiberal authoritarian culture inevitably generates authoritarian politics. In this article we will bring culture down to earth by arguing that it is not transcendental but entangled in reciprocal relationships with various social institutions, not the least of which are politics and political institutions. If culture is not fixed in a realm beyond everything else, then rehearsing traditional accounts of traditional culture is not enough to distinguish the range of possible futures. Instead, we have to look at why people have the ideas they have and how they can and might change.

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