Unprecedented social change in China has intensified the contradictions faced by ordinary people. In everyday life, people find themselves caught between official and popular discourses, encounter radically different representations of China's past and its future, and draw on widely diverse moral frameworks.
This volume explores irony and cynicism as part of the social life of local communities in China, and specifically in relation to the contemporary Chinese state. It collects ethnographies of irony and cynicism in social action, written by a group of anthropologists who specialise in China. They use the lenses of irony and cynicism - broadly defined to include resignation, resistance, humour, ambiguity and dialogue - to look anew at the social, political and moral contradictions faced by Chinese people. The various contributions are concerned with both the interpretation of intentions in everyday social action and discourse, and the broader theoretical consequences of such interpretations for an understanding of the Chinese state.
As a study of irony and cynicism in modern China and their implications on the social and political aspects of everyday life, this book will be of huge interest to students and scholars of social and cultural anthropology, Chinese culture and society, and Chinese politics.
'The various chapters in this edited book provide diverse contexts in which the study of irony and cycnicism in China can be made… The chapters in this books enable us to see the different dimenions in whcih Chinese people have tested the waters… Overall this is a timely book that is worth reading…'
Tan Chee-Beng, Sun Yat-sen University, China, Asian Anthropology
"This is an excellent collection, not because it has answered all the questions it poses, but because it provides another necessary angle for us to think about ourselves in relation to that which is conveniently called “China,” a world in which we find not only a past but also future potentials for investigations. An inquiry about today’s China, therefore, has become a study of our own future possibilities."
Xin Liu, Anthropos Reviews
"In summary, the ethnographic details in the individual chapters make this collection a valuable addition to any course covering aspects of modern China."
DAVID KURT HEROLD, The China Quarterly
"For those familiar with the complex paradoxes of life in contemporary China, this is an exquisite collection of essays. It provides concrete fieldwork experiences as a framework to delve into a very central aspect of Chinese culture that few have dared to explore. It clearly and concisely grapples with these slippery topics and does so with admirable insight and finesse."
MARC L. MOSKOWITZ, University of South Carolina, European Association of Social Anthropologists
"The chapters in this books enable us to see the different dimensions in which Chinese people have tested the waters… Overall this is a timely book that is worth reading…’
Tan Chee-Beng, Sun Yat-sen Univeristy, China, Asian Anthropology
Introduction: Irony, Cynicism, and the Chinese State Hans Steinmüller 1. Moral Persons and Implicit Irony in Today’s China Stephan Feuchtwang 2. The Farmer, the Foreman and the Tinker: Irony and the Displacement of Meaning in Xiakou Village John Flower and Pamela Leonhard 3. Morality and Cynicism in a "Grey" World John Osburg 4. Chinese Migrant Workers’ Cynicism and the Politics of "Decent" Wage Jaesok Kim 5. The Ironies of "Political Agriculture": Bureaucratic Rationality and Moral Networks in Rural China Tan Tongxue 6. An Interactionist Perspective on Irony in the Street-level Bureaucracies of Beijing Judith Audin 7. The Rebel as Trickster and the Ironies of Resisting in Rural China Susanne Brandtstädter 8. Freedom in Irony and Dreams: Inhabiting the Realms of Ancestors and Opportunities in Southwest China Katherine Swancutt 9. Differentiating Cynicisms: Irony, Cynicism and New Media in Contemporary China Kevin Latham 10. Afterword: Ironic Reflections in a Cynical Age Michael Herzfeld