AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 508

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Session 508: China’s New Terrains of Government

Organizer: Susette B. T. Cooke, University of Sydney, Australia

Chair: Elaine Jeffreys, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia

China’s post-1978 transition from ‘socialist plan’ to ‘market socialism’ has been accompanied by dramatic social change and significant shifts in how the practice and objects of government are understood and acted upon. This panel contributes to studies of the government of everyday life in present-day China by focusing on: the management of ethno-cultural diversity; how intellectuals interpret and transform Party-state ideologies and policies on inequality, class and social justice; the governmental ‘offloading’ of public service provision via celebrity philanthropy; and the rise of intercultural marriage and ‘problem’ Chinese–foreign marriages.

Prospects for a Multicultural Future in Qinghai
Susette B. T. Cooke, University of Sydney, Australia

Does China’s cultural diversity mean it practises multiculturalism? Neither the Constitution of the PRC nor the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law describes China as a multicultural nation, though both characterize it as a unitary multi-nationality state. The state, and ethnic minority people, are both profoundly concerned with the outcomes of China’s model. What are the prospects it will ultimately prove successful? In considering this pivotal question, the issue bifurcates into two questions that posit a zero-sum scenario: would genuine multiculturalism constitute a significant threat to the Chinese state, and must the Chinese state present a real threat to China’s multitude of cultures? Since 1949 the PRC has engaged in an ambitious process of integrating a multiethnic population into a stable, functioning, unified state. Its unique governmental, ideological and legal processes work to conflate multiple ethnicities and their distinct cultures into a fused Chinese identity. While some minority nationalities will find this picture of their history, culture and identity acceptable, others will challenge it. The risk for the Chinese Government is that in trying to impose a state-regularised model of ethnic minority expression, it will instead promote the emergence of more aggressively anti-Han formulations of native minority identity. Can this model produce multiculturalism in practice? This paper considers the concrete example of Qinghai, historically - and since 1949 officially designated - a “multi-nationality” province.

Inequality, Class and Social Justice in Postsocialist China: Convergence of Intellectual and Official Discourses
Yingjie Guo, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia

While intellectuals in the PRC are divided in their conceptualization and explanation of inequality, class and social justice, three broad interrelated trends have emerged. First, social equality – with the exception of equality of opportunity – is given little normative value, whereas economic inequality is widely considered to be a good thing, even though nobody argues that the ‘disadvantaged groups’ in society should not be taken care of. Second, the concept of class and class analysis have been deprived of discursive legitimacy and led to the shift of interest from class analysis to stratification analysis. Third, a middle class fetish has emerged hand in hand with the rejection of the class concept and class analysis. Though many of these intellectuals appear to be critical of the Party-state, their conceptualization and explanation of inequality, class and social justice actually converge or lend support to state ideologies, policies and official class schemes. What they are able to do is to ‘fill in the gaps’ in official discourses, creatively interpret or ‘edit’ Party-state ideologies and policies, and thereby effect subtle changes.

Zhang Ziyi and China’s Celebrity–Philanthropy Scandals
Elaine Jeffreys, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia

In January 2010, the internationally acclaimed Chinese actor, Zhang Ziyi, became a focus of public criticism for allegedly defaulting on a pledge to donate one million yuan to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake disaster-relief fund. That earthquake not only killed 70,000 people and left five million homeless, but also produced a dramatic rise in individual and corporate philanthropy in China. Philanthropic donations in 2008 amounted to a total figure of 100 billion yuan, exceeding the documented total for the preceding decade. Zhang’s ‘failed pledge’ led fans and critics to accuse her in interactive media forums of both charity fraud and generating a nationwide crisis of faith in the philanthropic activities of the rich and famous. The ensuing controversy obliged Zhang Ziyi to hire a team of USA-based lawyers, to give an exclusive interview to the China Daily, and to engage in renewed philanthropic endeavours, in an effort to clear her name. Hence, contrary to claims that celebrity philanthropy is an apolitical mode of philanthropy, an examination of the Zhang Ziyi scandal and its disaster-relief precursors demonstrates that celebrity philanthropy in the People’s Republic of China is a political affair.

Media Presentations of Intercultural Marriage in the People’s Republic of China (1979–2009)
Pan Wang, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia

This paper looks at how intercultural marriage is presented in various media formats in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) from 1979 to 2009. China’s post-1978 economic reforms and accompanying processes of globalization have resulted in dramatic social change. The growing phenomenon of intercultural marriage is a largely unexplored aspect of these processes. The paper draws on statistics provided by the PRC’s Ministry of Civil Affairs and other sources to detail the major trends and gendered characteristics of intercultural marriage in China today. It then examines newspaper accounts of the motivations for mainland Chinese citizens entering into Chinese–foreign marriages and their evolution – from the criticized focus in the early reform period on hypergamy or ‘marrying up’ to today’s perceived emphasis on ‘love’. Finally, it examines problems associated with intercultural marriage that are seen to require governmental responses and improved legal controls, such as high divorce rates, and the deception of Chinese marrying partners due to ‘fake’ marriages and the actions of illegal marriage-introduction agencies.