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“China gives and China takes”

African traders and the nondocumenting states

Shanshan Lan

Based on ethnographic research in South China’s megacity Guangzhou, this article examines the gaps and contradictions in the central and local Chinese states’ efforts to regulate migrant traders from Africa. I identify economic interests, everyday racism, and ideological concerns as three major factors in shaping the nonrecording tactics of the Chinese states. The article argues that nonrecording is a practical tactic pursued by both the central and local states in order to balance multiple and conflicting interests at the regional, national, and international scales. Due to tensions between different levels of state authorities, China’s policies toward migrants from Africa are marked by sporadic shifts between recording, nonrecording, and derecording, which contribute to the illegibility of issues of immigration in state bureaucracy.

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Heidi Ross and Yajing Chen

Vincent Tinto's theory of academic and social integration provides a framework for investigating perceived problems associated with Chinese international students' engagement at a public research-intensive university in the U.S. Midwest ('Midwest' University). These 'problems' – classroom silence, segregation and instrumentalism – are often understood in cultural terms, and we describe sociocultural values that might influence such behaviour. We also contend that culture, on its own, cannot wholly explain the complexity of student behaviours on college campuses. In a case study of Midwest University's Business School, we show how institutional policies do much to shape Chinese students' engagement. We conclude that popular perceptions of Chinese student engagement are simplistic. Chinese students are not indifferent engagers; rather, their interaction with campus life needs to be understood as embedded within complex cultural and institutional contexts.

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The correct secret

Discretion and hypertransparency in Chinese biosecurity

Katherine A. Mason

In this article I argue that the global biosecurity project that arose out of the events of the SARS epidemic of 2003 created a new balance of secrecy and transparency within the public health arm of the Chinese state. In an effort to meet national and international demands for greater transparency in support of a “common good,” local public health officials engaged in what I call hypertransparency. This hypertransparency took two forms: the real-time online sharing of disease incidence data within the public health bureaucracy, and the over-performance of disease fighting strategies in front of a wider local and global public. Because local Chinese officials interpreted the “common good” differently from their international partners, neither of these efforts succeeded in erasing the crucial role that local officials continued to play in determining what should and should not be shared, and with whom. Secrecy continued to be an important component of China’s securitization efforts, with hypertransparency ultimately concealing more than it revealed.

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Paul G. Harris

China is experiencing profound adverse environmental changes, many of them driven—and all exacerbated—by rapid economic growth. Attitudes toward the environment in China are ambiguous. Nevertheless, these attitudes are indicators of how the Chinese view the natural environment and how they are likely to behave toward it and respond to efforts to protect it. They are also important precursors to actions by the Chinese government to address environmental problems that affect the rest of the world. Environmental awareness and attitudes are associated with individuals' educational level, socio-economic status, living environment, and exposure to media. By understanding the Chinese view of the environment and the degree to which they prioritize it (or not) relative to other important issues, Chinese and international policymakers and stakeholders can enhance their capacity to perhaps start shifting these attitudes, values, and behaviors toward those that might do less harm to China's environment and the world's. This article reviews findings on environmental awareness, attitudes, and behaviors, and makes observations on their implications for environmental governance in China. Information is drawn from Chinese survey data, secondary Chinese-language sources, and related tertiary literature.

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Ka-Kin Cheuk

Through an ethnographic study of Indian traders in Keqiao, a municipal Chinese district in Zhejiang Province where China’s largest fabric trade market is located, this article seeks to unpack the ways in which negative stereotypes of Indian traders in China have been historically sustained, culturally represented and, to a significant degree, socially tolerated and justified in a local Chinese market. By invoking the notion of ‘everyday diplomacy’, it illustrates the ways in which the diplomatic capabilities of the Indian traders – a group often denounced in the city for having questionable business ethics - are incorporated into the commonly-held ‘evil Indian’ image. It also considers why, despite such condemnation, these Indians continue to be recognized, albeit reluctantly, as potential business partners by most Chinese suppliers in Keqiao.

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Slavery as the commodification of people

Wa "slaves" and their Chinese "sisters"

Magnus Fiskesjö

In the 1950s, teams of Chinese government ethnologists helped liberate “slaves” whom they identified among the Wa people in the course of China’s military annexation and pacification of the formerly autonomous Wa lands, between China and Burma. For the Chinese, the “discovery” of these “slaves” proved the Engels-Morganian evolutionist theory that the supposedly primitive and therefore predominantly egalitarian Wa society was teetering on the threshold between Ur- Communism and ancient slavery. A closer examination of the historical and cultural context of slavery in China and in the Wa lands reveals a different dynamics of commodification, which also sheds light on slavery more generally. In this article I discuss the rejection of slavery under Wa kinship ideology, the adoption of child war captives, and the anomalous Chinese mine slaves in the Wa lands. I also discuss the trade in people emerging with the opium export economy of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century which helped sustain, yet also threatened, autonomous Wa society. I suggest that past Wa “slave” trade was spurred by the same processes of commodification that historically drove the Chinese trade in people, and in recent decades have produced the large-scale human trafficking across Asia, which UN officials have labeled “the largest slave trade in history” and which often hides slavery under the cover of kinship.

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Bo Zhao

Conflicts over rural land expropriation, which have intensified over the past decade in China, pose a significant threat to the country's social stability and the sustainability of its economic development. This article argues that such conflicts are inevitable under China's current political and legal system. After a brief introduction of the present situation in China and an overview of China's land regime, the article first analyzes reasons for the escalation of land conflicts, including the vague definition of public interest, the inadequate compensation, and the ambiguous nature of collective land ownership. It then argues that even the few existing rights of rural peasants under the present land regime are not adequately protected due to China's poor law enforcement. The article further elucidates that impunity with regard to illegal land grabbing is common in China for a variety of reasons that all have roots in the Communist Party's monopoly over Chinese society. With no fundamental reform to China's party politics, the article concludes, there will be no effective measure to prevent further conflicts over land in the near future.

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James Miller

The Chinese Daoist Association has embarked upon an ambitious agenda to promote Daoism as China's "green religion". This new construction of a "green Daoism" differs, however, from both traditional Chinese and modern Western interpretations of the affinity between Daoism and nature. In promoting Daoism as a green religion, the Chinese Daoist Association is not aiming to restore some mythical utopia of humans living in harmony with nature, but instead to support a nationalist agenda of patriotism and scientific development. At the same time, as I shall argue, this agenda may deliver positive benefits in the form of protecting the local environments around important sacred sites that are located in areas of outstanding natural beauty.

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P. Steven Sangren

For many Western observers, Chinese religion and cosmology appear rife with contradictions, among them the recurrent motif in litera- ture and myth of preordination or fate, on the one hand, and a relentless attempt, through ritual means, to discern, control, or change fate, on the other. This article argues that the obsession with fate and luck is best comprehended with reference to desire understood as a human universal. Underlying one's hope to control the future lies a psychologically more fundamental wish to claim ownership of one's being. I argue that fate and luck are operators in a symbolic economy that implicitly posits what Freud terms the 'omnipotence of thoughts'. Moreover, if the underlying principle of Chinese notions of fate and luck can be termed an 'economy of desire', it is a principle that also coordinates and encompasses Chinese patriliny, family dynamics, and wider collective institutions.

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Poverty and Shame

Interactional Impacts on Claimants of Chinese Dibao

Jian Chen and Lichao Yang

The Chinese minimum living standard guarantee (dibao), which has been in place since the 1990s, is one of the most important social assistance programs run by the Chinese government. There is extensive literature on dibao, a majority of which deals with how it is allocated in rural communities and its effectiveness in alleviating rural poverty. Receiving dibao is often considered a sign of poverty. Scholars have long discussed the shame experienced by people in poverty. However, very few empirical studies have paid attention to the interplay between shame and dibao. This study draws on one month of qualitative fieldwork, focused on dibao implementation in both urban and rural China. It aims to understand how dibao and shame are connected in relation to three elements of policy provision: discretion, rights, and negotiation.