Whether china has changed or remained the same is a question of remarkable longevity in the field of Chinese studies. It is sustained in part by the continuity of certain terms of reference within Chinese culture, from late imperial to contemporary times, together with the maintenance of certain institutions. W. F. J. Jenner has recently identified some of these: the bureaucracy, walls, “dad, mum and the kids,” “severe punishment,” among others (Jenner 1992). In Jenner's analysis, the fact of China being ineluctably Chinese is readily translated into the fact that it has failed the challenge of modernization. The same equation has been made by others: Peyrefitte's “l'empire immobile,” Mabbett's “mirage of modernity,” and Pye's nationalism without modernization all bespeak an understanding of China as not only imprisoned by its past but also, to draw on older views again, as stagnant, mummified, or decaying (Peyrefitte 1993; Mabbett 1985; Pye 1993).

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