By Jing Wang
The landscape of Islam within China has been changing rapidly during the pandemic. Ethnographic fieldwork can map these erasures and disappearances in everyday life.
Society for East Asian Anthropology
By Xisai Song
September 16, 2020
This piece is part of an SEAA series on “An Anthropology of Ethics in East Asia.” The articles examine how individuals cope with societal changes such as environmental crises, nationalism, economic development, and mobility through a lens of everyday ethics.
As a life-sustaining treatment for patients suffering from kidney failure, hemodialysis has been ridden with controversies since its emergence. It is a “half-way technology” that can neither cure the disease nor provide a sense of comfort, but jams patients into a long and torturing status between life and death (see for example, Fox and Swazey 2001; Kaufman 2015). The life quality for patients on hemodialysis is extremely low: they have to constantly practice self-discipline in food and water consumption (only one small cup of water a day) and chronically experience a long list of complications such as itchy skin, sleeping problems, and bone diseases. Unless acquiring kidney transplants, patients have to depend on hemodialysis until death.
In 2019, I conducted fieldwork in the hemodialysis ward of a public hospital in Qiushui, a poor, mountainous county in northeastern Sichuan, China. There were 95 patients suffering from kidney failure who regularly visited the ward for a four-hour hemodialysis treatment two to three times a week. The majority of them were from the county’s rural areas, among whom most were former migrant workers. They used to work as laborers such as factory workers, construction workers, and truck drivers in coastal provinces in China, but returned to their hometown to receive hemodialysis treatments. Half of these patients were under 45 and 10 of them were in their twenties. In spite of their young age, only six patients in this ward were waiting to receive a kidney transplant. Why do so many patients choose the arduous hemodialysis treatment instead of kidney transplant? How is their clinical decision making formulated in the social-historical and political context of China today?
What shocked me when doing fieldwork in the hemodialysis ward was how grateful those patients were to the state, in sharp contrast to what has been documented in anthropological studies in other contexts where poor patients attributed their reluctance to receive kidney transplants to social and structural problems (for example, Hamdy 2012). Coexistent with their indebtedness to the state was patients’ intensive moral anxiety and self-blame. State-sponsored insurance schemes and the “Targeted Measures in Poverty Alleviation” (jing zhun fu pin) program cover 75 to 90 percent of patients’ medical expenses, making hemodialysis financially accessible. These state welfare programs made patients feel included into the political order. At the same time, although migrant workers are constitutive of creating the new socioeconomic landscape of reform-era China (Zhang 2001), they are displaced from it immediately as they lose their ability to work. Unemployment is common among these former migrant workers on hemodialysis because their bodies can no longer handle the heavy labor required to keep their jobs as blue-collar workers. As a result, families, both as a cultural source of support (Kleinman 1980; Yan 2017) and an agent of the biopolitical state (Ma 2020), become the default safety net that patients depend on for financial support and for care. Caring for a sick family member is a long-standing moral norm in China. In poor rural households, however, caring involves meticulous calculations and moral tensions; families strain to coordinate their limited resources including labor, money, opportunities, and life prospects. Consequently, clinical decision making, discursively framed as a private act of family responsibility, is in fact a dilemma of survival. Deciding on treatment options like kidney transplantation entails moral struggles of evaluating and comparing life values among family members.
For Shan, a patient in her early fifties, kidney transplantation was “meaningless.” Instead, her primary concern was her son’s marriage. Shan was from a rural village in Qiushui. She and her husband were factory workers in southern China. In 2013, Shan was suddenly diagnosed with kidney failure and came back to Qiushui to receive hemodialysis treatments. Shan’s husband also quit his job to take care of her, because Shan suffered from serious complications and couldn’t live by herself. Her son, who was 18 then, dropped out of school immediately and started working as a migrant worker to shoulder the financial responsibility of the family. In the past seven years, Shan and her husband had to rely on her son to pay Shan’s medical bills as well as their living expenditures. “I cried every time I received money from my son. I put too much pressure on him,” Shan once said to me. Shan’s son was 25 and remained single, which was absurd in rural areas where the marriage age was early. In Shan’s village, people called her “bottomless pits of trouble” (wu di dong) and no matchmaker ever introduced a girl to her son. Shan’s son also didn’t find a girlfriend in his workplace. Shan was extremely guilty that her son hadn’t finished school and blamed the difficulty of her son getting married on herself. Shan never considered kidney transplantation, refusing to add more burdens to her son. The financial cost of post-transplant medications was comparable to that of hemodialysis, while the possibilities of recurrent hospitalizations and relapse of kidney failure would further their trouble. Shan’s biggest wish was that her son would build a family of his own before her own death. Her family spent a large portion of their savings remodeling their house in 2019. A new house is an important cultural and economic symbol indicating that a family is ready to welcome a daughter-in-law. Bioethical principles of informed consents and patient autonomy have gained plenty of anthropological scrutiny.
In addition to worries over financial and caring burdens, many young patients regarded kidney transplantation as “useless.” The story of Jinwei, a patient in his mid-thirties, is one example. Growing up in a rural village of Qiushui, Jinwei went to Guangdong, a southern province at the age of 16 in 1998. Jinwei aspired to make a fortune and to snatch a good place in China’s emerging market economy. He started as a factory worker, but later became a gang member. Although his income was much higher, he ended up getting imprisoned for three years. After his release, he went back to working in a factory. Jinwei described the 1990s as a golden age of opportunity. Seeing some of his old friends getting rich, Jinwei was determined not to be left behind. He went to Beijing and invested his life savings into running a restaurant. The business failed a few years later, and Jinwei returned to work in a factory. This was where he met his wife, a fellow worker. In 2018, they got married and his wife became pregnant with twin boys. However, in the same year, Jinwei was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease (CKD). His CKD quickly progressed to the end stage and he started hemodialysis in early 2019. His boys were only three months old. Jinwei firmly refused to sign up for a kidney transplant waiting list. People with kidney transplants should still avoid heavy labor. That is to say, transplantation would not change the fact that Jinwei had lost his ability to work. Reflecting on the past 20 years, Jinwei demonstrated a strong sense of regret and failure, thus having no confidence to build a new life with a disabled body if he were to receive a kidney transplant. Jinwei didn’t bother to undertake the risks of a transplantation surgery, but would rather spend the surgery fees on raising his boys. He was immensely remorseful for his inability to provide his boys with an adequate life. Jinwei strictly practiced self-discipline in everyday life in order to maintain his body in a stable condition and to prolong his life, which extended beyond following medical advice to his moral endeavor to be a good father.
Bioethical principles of informed consents and patient autonomy have gained plenty of anthropological scrutiny. Scholars critique bioethics’ underlying liberalism and science-centric frameworks that overlook the complexity of local moral worlds and obscure structural inequalities (see for example, Kleinman 1995; Mol 2008; Pinto 2014; Rapp 2000). For Shan and Jinwei, their treatment choices are neither autonomous nor orient toward themselves. Instead, they gauge the overall well-being of their families and prioritize the benefits of the ones with relatively better life prospects—their children in both cases. Their seemingly intergenerational moral acts such as the sacrifice of Shan’s son, Shan’s motherly love, and Jinwei’s pursuit of good fathering have, however, obscured these poor patients’ predicaments caused by socioeconomic marginalization. For Shan and Jinwei, the chronic effects after transplantation—including the inability to work, long-term medication, and dependence on care—outweigh the benefits that transplantation can bring. Thus, they deem kidney transplantation worthless. Like Shan and Jinwei, most former migrant workers in the hemodialysis ward of the hospital in Qiushui regard kidney transplantation as being of little help to their life hardships, which challenges biomedical standards of medical efficacy. Instead of applying to individual biological bodies, medical efficacy is unevenly distributed to patients of different social statuses.
Xisai Song is a PhD candidate at Cornell University. Her study examines how lower-class patients struggle with chronic kidney disease in China. Her research interests include chronicity, medical ethics, health inequality, and the ways in which biomedicine is contextualized into non-Western contexts.
Cite as: Song, Xisai. 2020. “Clinical Decision Making in Rural China.” Anthropology News website, September 16, 2020. DOI: 10.14506/AN.1498
Copyright  American Anthropological Association
Society for East Asian Anthropology
May 29, 2020
This piece is part of an SEAA series on “An Anthropology of Ethics in East Asia.” The articles examine how individuals cope with societal changes such as environmental crises, nationalism, economic development, and mobility through lens of everyday ethics.
My conversation with care manager Zhang, the woman supervising the care workers among whom I conducted my fieldwork, came to a halt when she said, “Most care workers are here because they have no better options. They could easily be migrant workers shining shoes on the street today, and just as easily come to work in a nursing home tomorrow if they wanted!” Although she was being dramatic, her remark is representative of widely held perceptions of care workers in China. Despite such a demeaning portrayal of care workers as dirty and unskilled laborers, their daily practice of care reveals an agency which empowers their work.
Public policies for eldercare in China have been predicated on the premise that up to 90 percent of older adults will be cared for at home. However, this scenario is challenged when aging people become physically reliant and cognitively dysfunctional. Social attitudes toward institutionalized care are becoming more favorable as it increasingly becomes clear that adult children can no longer provide direct care for their parents. When constant supervision and intensive care are needed, they are increasingly being sought in nursing homes.
Because of the incongruence between the burgeoning care needs of an aging population and prejudicial attitudes toward care work itself, it becomes necessary to examine how care workers exercise agency in performing their tasks while coping with the social stigma surrounding them. To illustrate care workers’ agency in navigating the demands of care work, I have identified a set of techniques they developed to achieve caring goals and remain committed to the welfare of residents. In short, care workers exercise agency through encounters both with residents and with each other. These include identity work for self-empowerment, emotional labor to engage and detach, and boundary work to categorize residents and their relatives.
Care workers realize self-empowerment by presenting a caring and professional self in order to counterbalance stigmatized portrayals of care work. Most care workers are either rural to urban migrant workers or urban workers who were laid off in the restructuring of state-owned enterprises. In both cases, during the years that China’s economy was rapidly being reformed, there was a lack of reemployment mechanisms to reintegrate these workers into the formal economy. Consequently, many entered the care sector, in which the level of skill necessary for employment was relatively low.
However, by narrating the meticulous and attentive care they deliver to elderly residents, and in contrast to the availability of immediate family members for direct caregiving, care workers are increasingly constructing a moral standing as fictive kin. But as articulated by care worker Lin, having an empathetic relationship with clients is not enough to provide good care: “Compassion alone is inadequate. Not many residents are happy to live here, but they have no other option. We need to understand their psychological state and provide needed comfort for both the elderly and their families so that they can slowly adjust to institutionalized care. It’s not as easy as you think!” Lin’s closing comment reveals the need for professionalism as well as the capacity for empathy in caring for a vulnerable aging population.
To improve the professionalization of care work, national policies encourage the skill advancement of care workers through training programs. Zuo, a certified care worker, said that she is upset to still be called ayi (auntie, a kinship term also used to refer to domestic helpers). She carefully maintains a distinctive boundary between a common helper in a family home and a certified care worker in a care facility. “It feels different when people address me by my professional title, huliyuan (care worker). It’s like we are being formally recognized as professionals, and not everyone can be a qualified and effective care worker!” Care workers’ professional identity and commitment to care processes help them to mitigate low status and navigate the monotony of the many unpleasant and mundane tasks of care work. Exercising autonomy through detachment shields care workers from escalating emotional tensions.
In addition to identity work for self-empowerment, care workers calibrate their emotional labor. While care workers must observe mandates of care, ethics, and moral guidelines in ensuring basic needs are met, they remain autonomous in emotional attachment. For example, care workers are more willing to work with residents who show gratitude and respect for their work. The rewarding aspects of care promote the formation of relationships and allow care workers to find meaning in their work (see Stacey 2005). Care workers also detach emotionally from care delivery when residents only consider them to be servants. Exercising autonomy through detachment shields care workers from escalating emotional tensions. Migrant care worker Xu explains, “I do what I can to help them with feeding, bathing, and toileting; all the basics. But if the relatives or the elderly residents are mean to me, I won’t spend extra time on them. If they don’t respect me and my work, why should I care?” In the daily practice of care, cultivating authentic emotions with residents can be challenging due to heavy workloads and chronic understaffing. Care is routinized and standardized, often dictating that care workers care for instead of care about their elderly clients. In this pressurized environment, care workers’ use of emotions individualizes routine care for elderly residents. By calibrating their emotional attachment in their caring processes, care workers are able to both maintain the energy needed to provide quality care and harness those energies to balance the competing interest of residents, their relatives, and the nursing home.
Emotional labor can also promote processes beyond the simple dyad of care worker and care recipient. It creates the space for care workers to reflect on their own impending need for eldercare and to renew their determination to remain in the eldercare sector. “Their today is our tomorrow!” is a saying reiterated many times by care workers as they think of what awaits them in old age. There is widespread concern about both the mushrooming cost of care and the ability of their own family to later provide care for them, as many care workers belong to the one-child generation. Catalyzed by these concerns, care workers can be more accepting and tolerant of the demanding aspects of care work because they hope that their current commitment to care will be rewarded in part by others caring for them in the future.
Care workers also sometimes categorize residents and their relatives as possessing high or low suzhi (quality) (Yan 2003, Kipnis 2006). Care workers use this term to illustrate the degree of respect received from their clients. Through the boundary work of categorization, care workers create a buffer to counterbalance negative encounters with some residents who are demanding and unreasonable. This phenomenon is also reinforced by nursing homes’ organization of care work, which rotationally assigns residents and working shifts to care workers so that they interact with a large pool of residents over time. Care workers’ strategy to distinguish between high and low suzhi groups helps to ameliorate the impact of unpleasant individual encounters. With the construction of this agency, care workers regulate the environment for the performance of ongoing quality care.
Care workers apply a similar strategy to deal with residents’ relatives. Care workers consider some relatives’ visits to be sporadic and not very interactive, and so the emotional needs of their elderly residents are left unmet. In one extreme case, care worker Wang disdained the utilitarian intention of some relatives’ visits, claiming that they came only to reach the required number of visits to earn them a discount for care expenses from the nursing home. Combined with the disrespect they sometimes receive from relatives, care workers categorize some of these families as being of “low quality” and insulate themselves from unpleasant encounters without blaming themselves, the elderly, or the institution. Exercising agency through categorization is a viable strategy for care workers in some situations, but it also can mask deeper structural problems that need to be addressed. These include an absence of codes of conduct for families, codes of behavior for residents, and formal mechanisms for care workers to voice their concerns to management.
The many and sometimes competing demands of care work make it necessary for care workers to actively exercise agency to achieve caring goals and to guarantee care quality. The three modes of agency developed by care workers and identified in this essay—cultivating self-empowerment, calibrating emotional labor, and categorizing clients and relatives based on suzhi—sustain care workers’ agency in the performance of the full range of tasks required by the elderly in long-term care.
Zhe Yan is a doctoral candidate at University of Würzburg. His research delves into the experiences and social organization of care work in China, focusing on long-term care residential facilities. His research interests include aging and eldercare, and how processes of aging and care are shaped by socio-political conditions.
Cite as: Yan, Zhe. 2020. “Glimpses into Care Work in Chinese Nursing Homes.” Anthropology News website, May 29, 2020. DOI: 10.1111/AN.1409
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Society for East Asian Anthropology
October 10, 2019
This piece is part of an SEAA series on “An Anthropology of Ethics in East Asia.” The articles highlight different aspects of moral values and ethical practices in a range of Asian regions. They examine how individuals cope with societal changes such as environmental crises, nationalism, economic development, and mobility through lens of everyday ethics.
Last year in Shanghai, I was taken by my friend Mei to an affluent corner of Songjiang District, an hour away from the city center. To our surprise, we encountered a poster of Lei Feng, a deceased People’s Liberation Army soldier known for his thrift and selflessness, hanging on the front gate of a housing community. I had been rambling about jobs and other frustrations when she seized the opportunity to stage a witty comeback by pointing and reading the text on the poster: “Xuexi Lei Feng, kuaile zhiyuan” (Learn from Lei Feng, a happy volunteer). She laughed a bit, and in that moment revealed to me the complex relationship between an ethical claim—one that is issued by the state, on full public display—and the less straightforward way that it came to be interpreted. Laughter, more precisely, bore the trace of Mei’s perception and interpretation, but it was also an opaque utterance that lacked the grounding of a defined conclusion.
I wanted her to explain to me the elements behind that humor, since comedy can tell so much about the perceived order of things, especially through implicit judgments about what the real or the serious actually is (Berlant and Ngai 2017). She started with a brief history: Lei Feng was a soldier in the early days of the socialist state, prized for his altruism and revolutionary allegiance. After losing his life from a truck accident at age 22, he became a mythic figure and the subject of a large-scale propaganda campaign. His life stories were substantiated by a diary, published in 1963, replete with praise for Chairman Mao. “I’m not sure why, but he’s still here today, and there’s so much of him around here,” she concluded. As the day progressed, this mismatch she was insinuating between history and the present grew more and more pronounced. Lei Feng’s face graced the front of murals, billboards, and banners everywhere in the wealthy suburbs. There seemed to be an underlying logic that persisted beneath the surface, but in practice it was dismissed by a brief chuckle and cast aside.Humor has traction in post-socialist China, as literary and journalistic sources corroborate. It slows politics down, pauses the drive toward conclusive judgments, and serves as a medium for critique in moments where ethical claims made by the state need to be contested or negotiated.I continued to wonder why Mei met the situation with an ambivalent affect such as humor, rather than the possible range of more direct, more conclusive judgments—approval, disdain, disengagement—so I continued to probe about the posters and about experiencing street propaganda more generally. A haziness loomed over her response, again accompanied by a laugh: “I usually don’t have the time to look, but it feels like the historical campaigns are much stronger recently.” Her observation was reminiscent of my friend Allen’s comments a week earlier, who noted too that recent campaigns “are so blatantly of the past” to the point that their incongruence with the present comes off as “funny.” Allen’s and Mei’s statements share much in common: they both sidestep the quest for comprehension, making a diversion to comedy to fill in the gaps where a conclusive understanding of a political phenomenon doesn’t yet appear to be possible. Humor has traction in post-socialist China, as literary and journalistic sources corroborate. It slows politics down, pauses the drive toward conclusive judgments, and serves as a medium for critique in moments where ethical claims made by the state need to be contested or negotiated.
Recourse to history is a growing trend in China, with Lei Feng representing just one instance in an emergent pattern of the state invoking history in order to stage ethical claims. As Angela Zito (2016) has observed, themes of Confucian filiality that were once not part of PRC dogma have made their way back into political campaigns, perhaps as a way to encourage forms of familial and elderly care that had been neglected in years past. On a similar note, Confucius has returned as a cultural theme and a mechanism of soft power, both in the expansion of mainland campaigns (Xi 2015) and in initiatives to establish educational institutions outside of China, although not without its discontents, some of whom are from the discipline of anthropology (Sahlins 2015).
But for many of those who experience these historically-inflected campaigns on a daily basis, attention is seldom devoted to contemplating their magnitude or political origin. On the contrary, my interlocutors spend more time considering how they should interpret and respond to these ethical pleas, producing indirect responses such as laughter and humor, which play with narrative space afforded by ambiguity. As Mei pulled out a trove of experiences with past political campaigns, she could not summon up strong feelings for or against their injunctions; she didn’t experience responses that matched up to the ethical charge of what she was being faced with. The campaigns were quite straightforward in content, but there was a level of confusion about how she or other individuals would interpret them and incorporate them into their own daily practices. This fundamental ambiguity took the shape of a Chinese idiom she muttered to me at the end of our conversation—sidongfeidong (denoting something along the lines of “seeming to understand something at face value is to really not understand it at all”).
Consider the Core Socialist Values and Chinese Dream campaigns of recent years, which permeate Chinese streets to a greater extent than any other government initiatives. As Christopher Connery’s (2019: 9) analysis demonstrates, the message is clear-cut: these billboards feature both dynastic and socialist graphics, and they link the ideal Chinese life to ethical values “whose historical scope is civilizational.” At the same time, public responses to these displays of ideal ethical virtue (responses that are formed out of brief, real-time encounters, rather than detached analysis) are not as easily reducible to the straightforward messages they convey. Mei talked to me about these posters, with roundabout statements interspersed with chuckles or shifts in her tone. She alternated between earnest, knowledgeable analyses—“it wants to keep a memory going of national history”—with other more fleeting and rhetorical comments—“it feels like an advertisement.” Despite these vicissitudes, there remained a deeper uncertainty about what to do with the broad ethical imperatives placed in front of her eyes. As my informants’ responses to these campaigns reveal, laughter and moments of comedic relief shift the register of conversation to one less tied to reality, where a direct political judgment need not be made and where closure need not be immediately attained. It therefore seems appropriate that an op-ed in response to recent protests written by a mother to her child in the People’s Daily begins with, “In these tumultuous times in Hong Kong, only your innocent laughter can give me a brief moment of calm and peace.” Laughter, like its varied uses in twentieth-century China (Rea 2015; Zhu, Wang, and McGrath 2019), serves as an expressive device that opens up and sustains a space of indecision, inside of which ambivalences and frustrations can dwell during moments of transformative political change.
Such a space exists now perhaps because of the dramatic shifts in lifestyle and subjectivity borne out of postsocialist transformation in China (Rofel 2007, Zhang and Ong 2008). These changes have widened the gap between the past and the present—unlike these posters, which seem to reconcile it so effortlessly—and scholars have often been left wondering how to bridge the so-called gap in ethics during this time of transition and volatility (Ci 2014, Lee 2014). In practice, as my interlocutors have demonstrated, the gap is often deliberately held open, without a need for resolution, through humor and rhetoric that refuses any concrete determination of the status of ethical claims made by the state. Holding this interregnum open through alternative forms of emotional engagement may even serve as a wellspring of agency.
Ethical values are at once too easy to identify and too difficult to decisively settle in contemporary China. Because of government campaigns that plaster every corner of the street, ethical claims often take the form of spectacles, readily accessible at the glance of an eye. But such visual noise might also conceal how they are interpreted and negotiated by the people who encounter them, in ways that may be ambivalent to political imperatives. Humor and other rhetorical tools are means by which the demand for political and ethical certainties can be suspended temporarily, without defaulting to conclusions too hastily. Because affects, emotions, and expressions are useful ways to understand how ethical engagements play out on the ground, they serve as important sites for anthropology to continue expanding its analytical work.
Aaron Su is a doctoral student at Princeton University whose research focuses on post-socialist China, with an attention to the afterlives of the twentieth century. His interests include social theory, visual culture, modern intellectual history, and gender studies.
“An Anthropology of Ethics in East Asia” series is currently accepting submissions. Please contact Shuang Frost (email@example.com), Hanna Pickwell (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your essay ideas and comments.
Cite as: Su, Aaron. 2019. “A Space for Laughter in Contemporary China.” Anthropology News website, October 10, 2019. DOI: 10.1111/AN.1277
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Society for East Asian Anthropology
Jacqueline Zhenru Lin
December 23, 2019
This piece is part of an SEAA series on “An Anthropology of Ethics in East Asia.” The articles examine how individuals cope with societal changes such as environmental crises, nationalism, economic development, and mobility through lens of everyday ethics.
Mao Yu was a 91-year-old man who lived in a remote village in the westernmost region of Hunan province in south-central China. As a peasant without children or relatives in his local community, he relied on a group of volunteers who had recognized him as a national hero in 2012, for his service in the National Revolutionary Army in the War of Resistance against Japan (1937–1945). In September of 2015, Mao suffered a seizure. The volunteers cooperated with the media to publicize his life story and launch a public fundraiser for his medical expenses. When Mao Yu awoke from his surgery, he was surprised to be surrounded by more than 20 journalists and visitors who glorified him as “a modern Guan Gong.”
Guan Gong (an honorific for Guan Yu) is a legendary figure worshipped as a deity in Chinese folk culture, who exemplifies masculinity, righteousness between rulers and ministers, and the respect for patriarchal hierarchy (Louie 2002). How could a peasant who had made a living by farming for over 70 years suddenly become “modern Guan Gong” overnight? To answer that question, it is necessary to understand both Mao Yu’s life story and the historical story of Guan Gong, which is essential to the root metaphor (Ortner 1973) of the authenticity of Mao Yu’s masculinity. The gendered moral code it emphasizes—restraint of sexuality—is key in the construction of an ideal national hero in today’s China.
From 2012 until now, I have been investigating a grassroots hero-making movement self-described as “searching for the authentic national heroes,” which was initiated by civic organizations and local communities in the late 1990s. Major activities of the participants include seeking and assisting local veterans of the Second World War, recording their experiences during and after the war, and publicizing their stories and images as heroes to the public. While the conventional images of national heroes relate to brave fighting with invaders and selfless sacrifices for the country, Mao Yu’s case sheds light on a rarely explored site of national heroics: their sexuality and private life.
A closer look at the publicity and various promotional materials about Mao Yu shows us that the righteousness ascribed to Mao Yu was, to a very large extent, due to his relationship with a woman who resided with him for nearly 70 years. However, their relationship was an unconventional one, because the two were never married nor believed to be sexually intimate.Mao Yu promised to safeguard the colonel’s family no matter how long it would take, and he kept his promise, even though the colonel never returned to the Mainland until his death in 1988.In 1938, the 14-year-old Mao Yu was captured by the Nationalist government and forced to join the army. He was assigned to manage the logistics for an elder colonel, whose wife and two sons were living in Hunan. Around 1949, when the Communist Party began to govern, the colonel followed the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) army to Taiwan alone, entrusting his family to Mao Yu. Mao Yu promised to safeguard the colonel’s family no matter how long it would take, and he kept his promise, even though the colonel did not return to mainland China until his death in 1988. His wife, whose picture hung on Mao Yu’s wall, died in 2009. During the six decades that the colonel was absent, Mao Yu kept his promise, caring for the colonel’s wife and raising her two children.
Most of the newspaper headlines for this story were quite similar, such as “Modern Guan Gong: Veteran Guarded His ‘Sister-in-Law’ for 60 Years to Keep his Promise,” (Xinhua News 2015); and “Veteran Never Married and Helped to Take Care of His Comrade’s Wife and Sons for 66 Years” (CNR News 2016). The content generally consisted of three major sections. The first section was his promise to take care of this “sister-in-law” and his two “nephews” for life. The second was about giving his own food to them at the most difficult time of the famine. The third was his remaining a bachelor and not marrying his sister-in-law and thus not betraying the colonel.
In my interaction with the volunteers, the above three points in Mao Yu’s story were the key reasons that moved them to tears and increased their respect for the veteran. In narrating Mao’s story in daily conversation, my informants would elaborate on the second part about Mao fulfilling the promise. They added that during the Cultural Revolution, Mao Yu bore great suffering and was about to be expelled from the province and sent back to his hometown. The colonel’s wife stood up and said that her husband would never return and that Mao Yu was her family member.
Through their narratives, the volunteers drew a parallel between Mao Yu’s life history and Guan Gong’s legendary stories. Most frequently represented with an image of a red face and wielding a weapon called the Green Dragon Crescent Falchion, the historical character of Guan Yu lived in the Three Kingdom Period (AD 220–228). He was a military general serving under Liu Bei, the King of Shu. His fictionalized and popularized life stories were mainly found in the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which portrayed his loyalty. After his death, Guan Yu became a religious figure and was often reverently called Emperor Guan or Guan Gong. His acclaim was so great that he has been revered as a saint in Chinese culture. In his work on Chinese masculinity, Louie (2002) highlighted wu (martial valor) masculinity in the Chinese context and Guan Gong was considered the wu masculinity incarnate. Guan Gong’s chivalry and his model masculinity has inspired several key operas and metaphors. In Louie’s analysis, Guan Gong was first a sexualized general, and his red face is a symbol of yang, referring to masculine power. “Beautiful-beard man” referred to the masculine appeal of men with long beards (Louie 2002:28).
Guan Gong’s masculinity was also shaped by his relations with women (Louie 2002:47). When escorting the two wives of Liu Bei (Guan Gong’s ritual brother and the king), Guan Gong had a terrible dream that he had killed Liu Bei and committed incest with his two sisters-in-law, and he awoke in a cold sweat from fear (Louie 2002:49). Then, when many possible occasions to have sexual relations with his two sisters-in-law occurred, Guan Gong tried hard to restrain himself, and this restraint became a widespread story.
Therefore, Mao Yu, presented as a modern Guan Gong, won praise for his controlled masculinity and heroic image. The war experience and the 70 sexless years of living with a woman corresponded to Guan Gong’s restraint toward his sisters-in-law. Resistance to illicit sexual relationships was the source of Mao Yu’s masculine authenticity.The qualities of grandpa Mao reflect what we cannot find among our youth any longer: valiance, loyalty to the faith, and discipline in private life. Young men today are lost in money-centered and hedonist lives. That’s why people love my story.The head of the hero-making movement in Hunan province, Hui, is a media expert in his late 50s. He works in the most influential provincial television station in mainland China known for its entertaining programs. For a fundraising campaign in 2015, he designed the “Guan Gong and his ‘sister-in-law’” theme, which was very successful. During an interview, Hui stated proudly to a reporter, “The qualities of grandpa Mao reflect what we cannot find among our youth any longer: valiance, loyalty to the faith, and discipline in private life. Young men today are lost in money-centered and hedonist lives. That’s why people love my story.”
Hui’s observation reflects the desire for contemporary Chinese to promote “missing” moral values related to masculinity and sexuality in post-socialist China. Contrary to scholarship on “the desiring China” (Rofel 2007) that emphasizes an ethos of sexual freedom, individualism and neoliberalism (Kleinman, Yan, Jun, et al. 2011), this case study sheds light on voices of the urban middle class who continue to value sexual constraint, the sacrifice of individual pleasure for the collective unit, and loyalty to authority. The legacy of collectivism and communism has been revived in the construction of a modern Guan Gong, a hero who embodies socially-desired moral codes and concepts of masculinity. From the volunteers’ points of view, what made Mao Yu, this elderly peasant, a moral exemplar was his service in the war and his sexual discipline in his post-war life with a woman “left by” and “belonging to” a senior in a patriarchal power relation. By presenting Mao Yu as a model of loyalty and restraint and linking him to the legendary Guan Gong of the Three Kingdom Era, not only is a forgotten veteran remembered, but so, too, is a legendary past.
Jacqueline Zhenru Lin is a PhD candidate at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge. Her dissertation sheds light on a historical-redress movement aiming at re-evaluating the War of Resistance against Japan (1937–1945) in contemporary China. Through an anthropological lens, her work examines the relationships between memory and heroism, civic engagement and volunteerism, and charity and activism.
Cite as: Lin, Jacqueline Zhenru. 2019. “Gendered Moral Codes in China.” Anthropology News website, December 23, 2019. DOI: 10.1111/AN.1334
Copyright  American Anthropological Association
At a recent government-sponsored dance competition for retirees in Chengdu, the capital of China’s Sichuan province, more than 20 groups of retired women took to the stage to perform a dance routine set to Kangding Qingge, a Chinese pop song with lyrics extolling the romance of the Tibetan grasslands. This competition, and others like it, was a colorful staging of social harmony belying a more complex picture beneath the surface.
Between 2015 and 2017, I spent 18 months in Chengdu, researching the collective dancing phenomenon. Attending competitions was part of my regular routine. When I arrived at this competition on a summer morning, I saw hundreds of retirees sitting together in what looked like a rainbow sea of lustrous polyester. I first approached a group of women dressed in flamingo pink robes with yellow and green embroidered trim. They were helping each other put on complicated headpieces consisting of plaited ribbons with beading directly over the forehead and long, thin black braids flowing from the back. They each wore red satin stockings over their shoes to mimic knee-high boots when seen from afar. Next to these flamingo-hued dancers sat another group in nearly identical getups, save the fact that theirs were sky-blue. Still another group rehearsed nearby in red robes with detachable long sleeves extending more than 12 inches past their fingertips and a slightly different version of the same headpiece. As each of the groups ascended the stage to perform the same routine in succession, these sleeves and the ubiquitous black braids created graceful shapes in the air as the women danced. Behind them on the stage, a large banner displayed the names of the competition’s sponsors, which included the China Sports Lottery, the municipal district government, the district elderly sports association, and the local district’s social work organization. These state institutions and the retired dancers do not share the same agenda, but dance competitions offer organizers and participants alike the opportunity to broadcast their respective messages for a wide audience.
In preparation for this competition, organizers informed participating groups three months in advance that they would be competing to Kangding Qingge, which gave them ample time to practice the official, pre-determined routine and to get their costumes in order. Like the song Kangding Qingge, these costumes are not so much Tibetan as they are Tibetan-esque.Although some elements like the long sleeves and thin braids do appear in traditional Tibetan dress, the outfits are haphazard amalgamations of customary attire from different Tibetan regions and social classes. When I asked the dancers—all belonging to the majority Han ethnic group—about the origins of what they were wearing, they invariably answered that they were purchased online. Indeed, dance costumes like these can be found on China’s mega online-retailer sites like Taobao for less than 100 RMB (about 15 USD). On these shopping websites, there is often a category dedicated to minzu wu (ethnic dance), organized by sub-categories such as Tibetan, Mongolian, Miao (Hmong), and Uighur. The costumes of each sub-category reference key elements of traditional dress from each minority nationality, such as elaborate silver headdresses for Miao outfits and cowboy hats for Mongolian ones.
Competitions like these have been taking place in China’s urban centers since the early 2000s, when retired and aging women as well as some men began dancing together in informal groups in the aftermath of massive layoffs and early retirements stemming from China’s State-Owned Enterprise (SOE) reforms. The vast majority of dance group participants belong to China’s so-called “Lost Generation.”. Many spent their youths surviving the brutal excesses of Mao Zedong’s political campaigns. Then, decades later when China was transforming into the world’s second largest economy, they were squeezed out of their jobs to make way for younger workers. By the 2015, there were over 100 million participants throughout China. They crowded parks and sidewalks, leading city residents to complain about the noise from the dancers’ music. As part of their larger efforts to regulate the burgeoning phenomenon, municipal and provincial governments began organizing competitions in order to bring the groups under official control. Today, publicly sponsored dance competitions between groups of retirees occur regularly in Chinese cities.
Dance group participants have no say in what to perform during competitions; selected pieces range from patriotic Chinese numbers to contemporary pop performances, all set to official choreography. That said, the fact that organizers chose Kangding Qingge is neither an accident nor an anomaly. I attended over 20 competitions during my fieldwork and “ethnic minority” dances featured in more than half of them. Tibetan dances were by far the most common, but there were also two Miao dances and a wintertime competition where groups performed a Uighur dance while wearing costumes trimmed with faux fur.
Identifying, categorizing, and codifying ethnic groups was one of the new Communist government’s first projects after the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. China now officially recognizes 56 ethnic groups including the majority Han. Since 1949, displays of national unity have prominently featured popular understandings of minority groups’ cultural heritage. While the state exerts tight controls over minority populations’ expressions of their own cultural practices, performances of minority songs and dances make regular appearances on state-run television programs. The idea that China is composed of 56 distinct but harmoniously co-existing ethnic groups remains a foundational tenet of the modern state. Nowhere was this more prominently displayed than during the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics, when 56 schoolchildren representing the 56 ethnic groups carried the Chinese flag into the stadium while wearing versions of traditional attire.
Dance competitions may lack the grandeur of these official spectacles, but the presence of state agendas is no less apparent. Competitions are invariably judged by a panel of government officials, sometimes with input from a professional dancer or choreographer. At the Kangding Qingge competition, the most senior official present was the district deputy party secretary, a visibly bored man in his 50s who struggled to conceal his lack of interest in the performances. For government representatives like him, dance competitions are public events where ideals—about active aging, the preservation of cultural traditions, and the existence of a unified multi-ethnic Chinese nation—can be communicated to the masses. At the conclusion of the Kangding Qingge competition, another local official gave a rousing speech on the beauty of Tibetan culture and exhorted the performers to work harder to perfect their routines in the future.
For the retired dancers, on the other hand, performing onstage in brightly-colored, attention-grabbing costumes offers a chance to be noticed again after a lifetime of being overlooked. Despite their shoddy construction and cheap materials, the costumes have an ostentatious beauty that is normally deemed immodest for retired women but is sanctioned during performance events such as these dance competitions. My 61-year-old friend Qiu, whom I met while conducting participant observation with a dance group, immediately named the outfits when I asked what she enjoyed most about the competitions. She said she loved the outfits for their brightness, and for the way they popped in photographs. “At our age,” she explained, “the only way to add color to our appearance is with clothing.” If the cultural insensitivity of the costumes ever gave them pause, the dancers did not voice it. After all, they would be just as happy performing a folk Chinese dance in traditional Han clothing. After the event concluded, the women gathered on the stage to pose for photos, taking care to display the colorful skirts and bright embroidery. For these retirees, dance competitions are performances of visibility.
Dance competitions that showcase happy elders dancing in Tibetan dress must be understood within this broader tradition of staging national and ethnic harmony. The boundaries of the modern Chinese state are asserted through this highly visible and officially sanctioned cultural phenomenon to emerge in recent years. At a time when scholars are (rightly) paying attention to the ways that the Chinese state manages minority cultures through economic incentives, intimidation, and force, we must also understand how majority attitudes toward minority groups are shaped and maintained through everyday events. The dancers may not even be aware that they are acting out a political narrative, but this is how dance competitions effectively mask underlying social tensions. The state and the dancers have their own agendas, but for a few brief hours, these dual performances converge onstage in aesthetic—if not ideological—harmony.
Claudia Huang is a doctoral candidate at UCLA. Her research interests include aging and retirement, kinship and families, and state-society relations. She will be joining the faculty of the Department of Human Development at California State University, Long Beach in fall 2019.
Cite as: Huang, Claudia. 2019. “Staging Harmony in China’s Urban Dance Competitions.” Anthropology News website, May 10, 2019. DOI: 10.1111/AN.1159
Copyright  American Anthropological Association
Making of an Urban Spectacle
In 2013, I first stepped into the Tang West Market Museum in Xi’an. This museum, situated in the historical Tang Dynasty (618-907 C.E.) West Market site, is China’s first heritage museum run by a private corporation specializing in real estate and cultural business. Lü Jianzhong, CEO of the museum, identifies the museum as the cultural core (wenhua hexin) of his enterprise. Formerly known as Chang’an, Xi’an is recognized as one of the starting points of the Silk Roads by the Chinese government and the UNESCO World Heritage Center. As early as the 1980s, the local government began to promote heritage-related tourism for economic development (Zhu and Yang 2016). Noticeable changes took place during the 2000s when the government further allowed privatized corporations to manage heritage sites.
In 2016, however, two archaeologists Zhang Jianlin and Gong Guoqiang publicly voiced their concerns about the West Market site’s third phase of development. They pointed out that the corporation had not notified the archaeological team in advance about their excavation work, which could have severe consequences for the heritage site. If the same development model were replicated for other privately funded Silk Road–related sites, the archaeologists suggested that more precautions be taken to balance heritage preservation and real estate development (Gong and Zhang 2016). Thanks to the intervention of archaeologists and heritage workers, the development project was halted for further inspection. This incident also reflects the deep-seated conflicts between profit-making and preservation as the city undergoes constant development.
This double binding of culture and business not only brings the destructive force of neoliberalism to the forefront; it also produces new urban spectacles. The chief architect Liu Kecheng, the Dean of the School of Architecture in the Xi’an Architecture and Technology University, is well known for his hybrid use of classic Chinese and modernist styles. While the heritage museum takes the modernist outlook made from high-vault glass ceiling and corridors, the surrounding buildings feature a neoclassical Chinese style with dark blue tiles, white and grey walls, temple-shaped roofs, and overhanging eaves. This reversal of temporalities in architectural representation reminds us of Guy Debord’s conceptualization of modern spectacles. “Reality rises within the spectacle,” Debord writes, “and the spectacle is real.” The reality of capital accumulation is revealed and accentuated through the heritage site expanded into an urban spectacle.
From Spectacle to Neoliberal Reality
By tracing the multifaceted practices in a heritage site, this essay shows the neoliberal forces to privatize the Silk Road in the Chinese cities. It highlights the private corporations’ voluntarism to manage heritage sites and develop real estate. It also attends to the limits of privatizing the heritage economy through urban spectacles. While heritage becomes a brand, the need to preserve is often trumpeted in a performative fashion. However, we cannot overlook the critical role of the post-socialist state in these processes.
During a speech in Kazakhstan in 2013, the People’s of the Republic of China President Xi Jinping proposed reviving the ancient Silk Road and expanding it into economic and geopolitical networks between China and Central Asia. Since then, the Chinese government has been promoting the Road and Belt initiative (yi dai yi lu, or R&B) at the state level as a nation-building schema involving cultural diplomacy and economic policies across Asia, Europe, Africa, and Latin America. As a result, the Chinese state has invested massively in the foreign financial loans and infrastructure projects. It is in that year that the Tang West Market complex was further branded the “commercial starting point of the Silk Road.”
While Beijing deploys the R&B initiative as a geopolitical imaginary for international networks, such policies also heavily impact the ways in which local practices adapt to the initiative. Among different efforts to privatize the Silk Road, the physical remains of heritage sites become key spaces where local actors deploy a neoliberal logic to blend heritage management and business development. In Xi’an, where the Tang West Market Museum is located, this shows how the past and present reinforce one another.
In post-socialist China, the historical metaphor and physical remains of the past have been corporatized, commodified, and spectacularized as a neoliberal reality. As Jean and John Comaroff point out, the “rise of neoliberalism” tend to “encourage the outsourcing of the functions of state to the private sector” (2009, 120). This outsourcing includes the cultural heritage management through real estate development and the tourist industry, and results in the emergence of new urban spectacles predicated upon the dual use of the past, mirroring the neoliberal expansion of capital abroad.
Jing Wang is a PhD candidate in the Anthropology Department at Rice University and currently a visiting scholar in the Anthropology Department at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests include globalization, nationalism, memory, Muslim minorities, diaspora, heritage, media, and cities in contemporary Asia.
Cite as: Wang, Jing. 2019. “Privatizing the Silk Road in Contemporary China.” Anthropology News website, January 24, 2019. DOI: 10.1111/AN.1067
Copyright  American Anthropological Association
Editors’ note: This is the fifth piece of the series “In and Out of Japan.”
In 2003, the first Japanese-staffed call center opened in Dalian, a north-eastern city of six million people dubbed China’s “Green Silicon Valley.” Thousands of Japanese workers have served consumers across Sino-Japanese borders, alongside their bilingual Chinese colleagues. They are recruited in Japan and sent to Dalian’s IT parks in one of the country’s oldest and largest high-tech zones. Due to their status as employees of local subsidiaries, they are paid in the local currency at, or even below, the Japanese minimum wage level. But their experience complicates the image of offshore call center workers as “cyber coolies” in the “new colonialism” of digital outsourcing.
The offshoring of Japanese workers to Dalian has evolved into an innovative response to raising cost pressures in deflationary Japan. The Japanese “local hires” are tasked with setting up a new call center, training the local workforce, and liaising with headquarters and subsidiaries elsewhere—all of which were previously the responsibility of expensive yen-earning expatriates on rotational transfers. As the workers gain knowledge and experience, they can be sent back to Japan on short-term “overseas” assignments.
For the workers themselves, the jobs in Dalian provide a chance to work abroad without special qualifications or foreign language proficiency. Underlying the decision to go to Dalian, a city they’d barely heard of, was their deep dissatisfaction with the tightening labor market conditions under long-term recession. One 35-year-old male worker who quit his property sales job to work in China said, “Back then, 95 percent of my life was work, and I wanted more time for myself.” He and other Japanese workers I spoke with during my fieldwork enjoy a higher economic and social status in Dalian than the average local worker.
They are particularly proud of their employment at large multinational companies, many of which are on Fortune’s Global 500 list. The Japanese migrant community is well catered to by the strong presence of bilingual Chinese service providers, a legacy of the city’s history as a major commercial powerhouse under imperial Japan’s colonial rule. For the call center workers, Dalian is a refuge from the confines of the Japanese workplaces where hard work reaps neither adequate material nor psychological rewards.
In the globalizing digital economy, things change rapidly, and Dalian’s success in digital outsourcing might be causing its own demise. The rising wage levels of the local workforce are causing foreign investors to look elsewhere, including South East Asia and notably, Japan. The Chinese government is also introducing measures to curb the entry of skilled migrants to provide jobs for its own growing middle classes. Such changes are heightening the sense among the Japanese that their relative privilege in Dalian is fundamentally unstable. Some return to Japan, others try their luck in emerging outsourcing hubs such as the Philippines, yet others stay put for the moment. Their experiences provide us snapshots of the tug of war between global capital and digital labor, and its impact on mobility in and out of Japan.
Kumiko Kawashima is a Lecturer at the Department of Sociology, Macquarie University. Her research interests include labour and consumption in post-industrial society, identity, and social change. Her recent publications include “Service Outsourcing and Labour Mobility in a Digital Age: Transnational Linkages between Japan and Dalian, China,” Global Networks.
The Society for East Asian Anthropology awards the 2016 Theodore C. Bestor Prize for Outstanding Graduate Paper to Adam Liebman for his paper entitled “Waste-Product Trading and Colloquial Urban Sociality in Kunming, China.” Adam is a Ph.D. Candidate in Sociocultural Anthropology at University of California, Davis.
Megan Steffen, who recently received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from Princeton University, was awarded honorable mention for her paper entitled “The Value of Emptiness: Zhengzhou’s Empty Houses and the PRC’s Housing Bubble.”
Named after the first president of SEAA, the Theodore C. Bestor Prize is awarded annually for the best graduate student paper on any aspect of East Asian anthropology and/or East Asian anthropology’s contribution to the broader field. Carolyn Stevens (SEAA Secretary and Professor of Japanese Studies at Monash University) chaired the 2016 Bestor Prize Committee, which included Gordon Mathews (SEAA President and Chair of the Anthropology Department at Chinese University of Hong Kong) and Sealing Cheng (SEAA Councilor and Associate Professor of Anthropology at Chinese University of Hong Kong).
The deadline for submissions for the next Bestor Graduate Paper Prize (for papers written by graduate students in 2016) is May 1, 2017. For more information: https://seaa.americananthro.org/awards/bestor-prize-for-outstanding-graduate-paper/
2016 Bestor Prize Citations:
Winner: Adam Liebman (Ph.D. Candidate in Sociocultural Anthropology at University of California, Davis)
Paper Title: “Waste-Product Trading and Colloquial Urban Sociality in Kunming, China”
Award Citation: This paper was distinguished by its clarity of argument, ethnographic richness and theoretical sophistication. Liebman’s topic is of importance to those in Chinese Studies but the concept of ‘colloquial urban sociality’ is highly applicable to all anthropologists looking at the ways in which people forge lives for themselves in cities around the world, and outside ‘formal’ labor and economic structures that are promoted by their governments. Firmly connected to theoretical and ethnographic literature that comes before, Liebman’s paper makes fresh contributions to our understanding of ‘class consciousness’ and individual in changing urban Chinese society as well as injecting new insight into the materiality and the meaning of ‘waste’ objects in people’s daily lives.
Honorable Mention: Megan Steffen (Ph.D. 2016, Department of Anthropology, Princeton University)
Paper Title: “The Value of Emptiness: Zhengzhou’s Empty Houses and the PRC’s Housing Bubble”
Award Citation: This paper, also on a timely and provocative topic in contemporary Chinese society, was chosen for honors because it particularly highlights the meaningful and vivacious relationship between the ethnographer and informants through examples of vivid personal dialogue as argument. The prize’s namesake, Theodore C Bestor, is an anthropologist whose writings have always highlighted and valued respectful personal relationships with his informants; Steffen’s paper continues and excels in that engaged ethnographic tradition. As Steffen eloquently gives voice to these Chinese young women through her writing, we are reminded that ethnography comes from the people, freely given to the anthropologist as a gift of friendship as well as information.
2016 Bestor Prize Selection Committee:
The Society for East Asian Anthropology awards the 2016 Francis L.K. Hsu Book Prize to Jie Yang, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Simon Fraser University, for her book Unknotting the Heart: Unemployment and Therapeutic Governance in China (Cornell University Press 2015).
Unknotting the Heart is an extraordinary ethnography that charts new territory in our understanding of the ways in which neoliberal governance, psychotherapy, and affective labor come together to shape subjects and subjectivities during mass unemployment as former socialist-style industries in China transform into global manufacturers. Based on many years of in-depth fieldwork in urban China, Jie Yang explores the plight of laid-off workers as the state psychologizes their condition and promotes what Yang calls “fake happiness.” Jie Yang brilliantly shows the tension between the Chinese state’s “therapeutic governance,” which employs western-style psychology, and the workers’ own attempts to deal with the astonishing transformations taking place around them. Jie Yang shows how therapeutic governance disrupts existing values and habits by promoting self-enterprising and self-reflective subjects who are expected to fit current market needs. This process further genders the population, often in traumatic and disturbing ways. As external and connected selves are pushed to transform themselves into internal and self-reliant selves, the therapists, not surprisingly, solidify their position as Communist Party authorities. Their combination of political and therapeutic roles legitimates and naturalizes their psychological knowledge and authority. Unknotting the Heart is an innovative, ethnographically nuanced, and theoretically sophisticated book about the contemporary condition. It is anthropology at its best. This is a contribution to anthropology at large, and it will inspire anthropologists and students of all sub-disciplines and all regions to think creatively and deeply for decades to come.
The SEAA’s annual book prize is named for the late Francis L.K. Hsu (1909-2000), renowned cross-cultural anthropologist and former president (1977-78) of the American Anthropological Association. The Hsu Book Prize is given to the English-language book published in the previous calendar year judged to have made the most significant contribution to East Asian anthropology. 18 books were submitted for consideration for the 2016 prize from a diverse range of scholarly publishers.The 2016 Hsu Book Prize selection committee was chaired by Manduhai Buyandelger (2014 Hsu Book Prize recipient and Associate Professor of Anthropology at MIT) and included Jong Bum Kwon (Associate Professor of Anthropology at Webster University), Glenda Roberts (Professor of Anthropology at Waseda University), and Priscilla Song (Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis).
The deadline for submissions for the next Francis L.K. Hsu Prize (for books published in 2016) is May 1, 2017. For more information:
2016 Francis L.K. Hsu Book Prize:
Yang, Jie. Unknotting the Heart: Unemployment and Therapeutic Governance in China (Cornell University Press 2015).
Book description: http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/book/?GCOI=80140100984600
2016 Hsu Book Prize Selection Committee: