Privatizing China: Socialism from Afar
Everyday life in China is increasingly shaped by a novel mix of neoliberal and socialist elements, of individual choices and state objectives. This combination of self-determination and socialism from afar has incited profound changes in the ways individuals think and act in different spheres of society. Covering a vast range of daily life―from homeowner organizations and the users of Internet cafes to self-directed professionals and informed consumers―the essays in Privatizing China create a compelling picture of the burgeoning awareness of self-governing within the postsocialist context.
The introduction by Aihwa Ong and Li Zhang presents assemblage as a concept for studying China as a unique postsocialist society created through interactions with global forms. The authors conduct their ethnographic fieldwork in a spectrum of domains―family, community, real estate, business, taxation, politics, labor, health, professions, religion, and consumption―that are infiltrated by new techniques of the self and yet also regulated by broader socialist norms. Privatizing China gives readers a grounded, fine-grained intimacy with the variety and complexity of everyday conduct in China's turbulent transformation.
of neoliberalism, which we INTRODUCTION: PRIVATIZING CHINA / 3 call “socialism from afar.” We call it this because state controls continue to regulate from a distance the fullest expression of self-interest. The interplay between the power of the state and powers of the self is crystallizing a national environment of great diversity and contingency. Thus our analysis cannot be framed only at the scale of the nation-state but must capture the situated interplay of sovereign politics and
coordination, it remains an open question whether and how municipal governments are able to convert such delegated authority into the effective exercise of territorial power. When one “sees like a local state,” decentralization becomes not just an issue of the level of central control and local autonomy but also a matter of local states’ capacity to operate with power that is both granted and earned. The process of exercising state power, therefore, is not a zero-sum game between the central and
for this ethical codes movement in China was a striking piece of news released in 1992 by the Washington Post about the production of Levi’s jeans with the use of Chinese prison labor.9 Worried about its corporate image worldwide, Levi “REORGANIZED MORALISM” / 91 Strauss immediately reacted to the public’s concern by drawing up a code of labor standards titled “Business Partner Terms of Engagement and Guidelines for Country Selections,” and demanded that their suppliers and subcontractors in
CONSUMPTION / 157 for these towels, even though they were mandatory at restaurants in Shanghai). In spite of the absence of snake, our dinner did not suffer from any lack of exotic food. In addition to novel varieties of shrimp and shellﬁsh, I had my ﬁrst taste of sturgeon—commercially farmed and braised to perfection. In subsequent weeks the topic of “wild animals” kept crawling back in various forms into my interviews with medical professionals in Shanghai, as well as my conversations with
livelihood by diving (xiahai) into the booming labor markets and competing for jobs on their own. A vast “ﬂoating population” (liudong renkou) now feeds the labor demands of burgeoning coastal cities and inland growth zones. Alongside the encouragement to be self-reliant and self-enterprising, political control is exercised through the proﬁling of different groups perceived to be more or less aligned with new norms of competitiveness and proﬁtability. The new biopolitics problematizes the quality