iChina

The Rise of the Individual in Modern Chinese Society

edited by Mette Halskov Hansen and Rune Svarverud

  • Published:
  • Pages: 304 pp.
  • Series number: 45
Available from NIAS Press worldwide

While studies of social life in China tend to focus on groups and collectives, and downplay (even disregard) the individual, the reality is a growing individualization of China – changing perceptions of the individual and rising expectations for individual freedom, choice and individuality. This development now permeates all areas of Chinese social, economic and political life. How this process evolves in a country lacking two of the defining characteristics of European individualization – a culturally embedded democracy and a welfare system – is a question this volume explores. The volume makes an essential contribution to the current debate in sociology about how ‘modernity’ should be conceptualized from a cosmopolitan perspective. Moreover, it succeeds in depicting China’s individualization process in conceptually acute and empirically sensitive terms, and as something distinctively Chinese. That makes it a ‘must read’ for all those wanting to understand present-day Chinese society in all its ambivalences, contingencies and contradictions.

 

Explores the growing individualization permeating all areas of Chinese social, economic and political life.

  • Offers a conceptually acute and empirically sensitive analysis.
  • An essential contribution to the current debate in sociology on ‘modernity’.

In spite of the intense preoccupation with individual and self in modern Western thought, the social sciences have tended to focus on groups and collectives and downplay (even disregard) the individual. This implicit view has also coloured the study of social life in China where both Confucian ethics and Communist policies have shaped collective structures with little room for individual agency and choice.

What is actually happening, however, is a growing individualization of China – not only changing perceptions of the individual but also rising expectations for individual freedom, choice and individuality. The individual has also become a basic social category in China, and a development has begun that permeates all areas of social, economic and political life. How this process evolves in a state and society lacking two of the defining characteristics of European individualization – a culturally embedded democracy and a welfare system – is one of the questions that the volume explores.

A strength of this volume is that its authors succeed in depicting the individualization process in conceptually acute and empirically sensitive terms, and as something with its own distinctively Chinese profile. That makes this book a ‘must read’ for all those wanting to understand present-day Chinese society, with all of its ambivalences, contingencies and contradictions.

Moreover, the volume makes an essential contribution to the current debate in sociology about how the meaning of ‘modernity’ should be conceptualized and redefined from a cosmopolitan perspective.

 

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by Gilles Guiheux, Université Paris Diderot
From journal:
Études chinoises, vol. XXX (2011)

"

"This book is an essential reading for anyone interested in the social dynamics at work in China. Citing the emergence of identities and individual subjectivities, it demands to be read in relation to other work centered on the invention of new communities – what we might call "weChina." It is clear that this is also a good example of teamwork and how the study of China contributes to the current debate about the social sciences." (translation)

by Lisa Hoffman, University of Washington, Tacoma
From journal:
The China Journal, No. 69

"This book […] is an important addition to debates about how best to understand these complex contemporary processes of identity and subjectivity, and the related emergent social forms. It will be of interest to a wide range of China scholars concerned with questions of identity, modernity and social as well as potential political transformation."

"This book […] is an important addition to debates about how best to understand these complex contemporary processes of identity and subjectivity, and the related emergent social forms. It will be of interest to a wide range of China scholars concerned with questions of identity, modernity and social as well as potential political transformation."

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