Communities of Complicity

Communities of Complicity: Everyday Ethics in Rural China

Hans Steinmüller
Series: Dislocations
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 290
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  • Book Info
    Communities of Complicity
    Book Description:

    Everyday life in contemporary rural China is characterized by an increased sense of moral challenge and uncertainty. Ordinary people often find themselves caught between the moral frameworks of capitalism, Maoism and the Chinese tradition. This ethnographic study of the village of Zhongba (in Hubei Province, central China) is an attempt to grasp the ethical reflexivity of everyday life in rural China. Drawing on descriptions of village life, interspersed with targeted theoretical analyses, the author examines how ordinary people construct their own senses of their lives and their futures in everyday activities: building houses, working, celebrating marriages and funerals, gambling and dealing with local government. The villagers confront moral uncertainty; they creatively harmonize public discourse and local practice; and sometimes they resolve incoherence and unease through the use of irony. In so doing, they perform everyday ethics and re-create transient moral communities at a time of massive social dislocation.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-891-9
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-ix)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. x-xii)
  5. Notes on the Text
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-35)

    Shouts cut through the morning mist: ‘One, two, … three!’, ‘Slower!’, ‘Come on!’. Eight men lift the ridgepole onto its socket on top of the roof. At this moment the yelling of the helpers is shot through and then drowned out by the noise of countless firecrackers. Display fireworks are ignited and hiss into the fresh morning sky. The helpers on the concrete roof of Yang Minghu’s house, all the relatives and neighbours in the front yard, everyone stands still in the smoke and noise. Slowly the smoke clears, and the wooden roof truss appears on top of the second...

  7. Chapter 1 A Remote Place from Three Angles
    (pp. 36-66)

    In the 43rdyear of the reign of the Kangxi emperor (1704 CE), the poet and playwright Gu Cai embarks on a long journey into the mountains west of Yichang. He carries letters of invitation from his friend Kong Shangren, to visit Xiang Shunnian, the head of the chief-tainship Rongmei. These chieftainships (tusi) do not have a Mandarin administration like the rest of the Empire, their populations speak languages partly incomprehensible to Chinese-speakers from the plains, and their rulers often cannot read and write Chinese. But the rulers of Rongmei and the other chieftainships in the region have been vassals...

  8. Chapter 2 Gabled Roofs and Concrete Ceilings
    (pp. 67-97)

    The first road in Zhongba on which vehicles could drive was built at the end of the 1960s, but this road was paved with asphalt only in the 1990s. Until then, people used to carry all their goods and agricultural products on their backs. The main criterion for the location of a house then was its distance to the market town. When people came to this area as migrants in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, they often settled as extended families in hamlets together. The geographical conditions in the mountain regions did not favour bigger settlements, and so there are...

  9. Chapter 3 Work Through the Food Basket
    (pp. 98-129)

    Most of the slopes and paddy fields of Zhongba are now covered with tea shrubs, planted in uniform rows. Interrupted only by some small groves, the dark green of the tea leaves is the dominant colour of the landscape throughout the year. In Fragrant Forest, two stripes of paddy fields stick out: straw cobbles in autumn and winter, irrigation water covering the fields in spring, bright green rice plants in early summer that dry into a withered yellow before harvest, all provide a stark contrast to the tea shrubs surrounding them. Just outside the Yao family hamlet, these two fields...

  10. Chapter 4 Channelling Along a Centring Path
    (pp. 130-153)

    Like many others of his age, Wang Wei stopped studying at the age of sixteen after he finished middle school. Two years later, a relative helped him to find work as a waiter in Shanghai, where he stayed for the next six years doing odd jobs. He started out cleaning and serving in a restaurant, worked as an electrician, later found a job in a massage parlour, and finally in the reception of a medium-sized hotel. Shortly after he returned to Zhongba for the Spring Festival in 2006 he met Song Yan, Song Haomin’s daughter, and they became a couple...

  11. Chapter 5 The Embarrassment of Li
    (pp. 154-175)

    Firecrackers were going off throughout the first night that I spent in Bashan, 15 November 2005. Every now and then, a new tirade of firecrackers reverberated, echoing through the entire valley. A huge funeral was going on in a house not too far from the hostel in the market town where I spent the night; the noise finally reached its peak at dawn, when the coffin was carried out of the market town to the place where it would be buried.

    Later I became accustomed to the firecrackers and the ‘funerary dirge’ (ai yue) announcing funerals all over the valley...

  12. Chapter 6 Gambling and the Moving Boundaries of Social Heat
    (pp. 176-197)

    Just about two weeks after my arrival in Zhongba village, some young men offered to teach mezha jinhua.Zha jinhua– ’bash the golden flower’ – is a card game similar to poker but with only three cards for each player. The gamblers, usually half a dozen or more, take turns putting money on the table, each betting on the combination of cards in front of him. Everyone must put in at least one Yuan as an ante, a basic amount at the beginning to enter the betting round. As in poker, each player has three options: to increase the highest...

  13. Chapter 7 Face Projects in Rural Construction
    (pp. 198-222)

    In the novelAn Ordinary World,Lu Yao writes about rural life and politics in central China from 1976 to 1983, the years between the end of the Maoist era and the beginning of ‘reform and opening’. In 1980, Old Gao, a senior leader in the central government, comes to visit the small town where he was born, and announces that he wants to meet his former classmates from middle school. Many of them are peasants and very poor, and the local cadres of the county are afraid that they will give a very poor picture of the situation in...

  14. Conclusion Everyday Ethics, Cultural Intimacy, and Irony
    (pp. 223-233)

    In this book I have explored everyday ethics in contemporary rural China, by giving an ethnographic description of family and work relations, popular ritual, and the local state. Chapter 1 set the stage of this ethnography. In the historical and spatial context in which Bashan is located, we have seen how remote it is in relation to various centres: the civilizational centre of the empire, the central government of the People’s Republic, and the capitalist metropolises of contemporary China. Whilst in this first chapter I have emphasized the similarities of such ambiguities in imperial and contemporary times, chapters 6 to...

  15. Appendix A Newspaper Report
    (pp. 234-236)
  16. Appendix B Expenses for the Construction of a House
    (pp. 237-238)
  17. Apppendix C List of Money-Gifts And Tasks
    (pp. 239-240)
  18. Appendix D: Subsidies Given to Three Households
    (pp. 241-242)
  19. Glossary
    (pp. 243-256)
  20. Bibliography
    (pp. 257-270)
  21. Index
    (pp. 271-276)