Deep China investigates the emotional and moral lives of the Chinese people as they adjust to the challenges of modernity. Sharing a medical anthropology and cultural psychiatry perspective, Arthur Kleinman, Yunxiang Yan, Jing Jun, Sing Lee, Everett Zhang, Pan Tianshu, Wu Fei, and Guo Jinhua delve into intimate and sometimes hidden areas of personal life and social practice to observe and narrate the drama of Chinese individualization. The essays explore the remaking of the moral person during China’s profound social and economic transformation, unraveling the shifting practices and struggles of contemporary life.
Arthur Kleinman is Professor of Medical Anthropology at Harvard University; Yunxiang Yan is a Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles; Jing Jun is a Professor at Tsinghua University (Beijing); Sing Lee is a Professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong; Everett Zhang is a Professor at Princeton University; Pan Tianshu is a Professor at Fudan University (Shanghai); Wu Fei and Guo Jinhua are Professors at Peking University (Beijing).
“How do Chinese people formerly embedded in family and village justify their individualistic pursuits in a society undergoing vast changes? Here a uniquely trained senior psychiatrist/anthropologist and six Chinese with Ph Ds in anthropology probe the inner lives of Chinese people.” --Ezra F. Vogel, author of Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China
“Based on solid, in-depth ethnographic research, Deep China seeks to understand how emotional and moral lives of Chinese people have been affected by drastic changes that have taken place over the past several decades. The authors refuse to stay on the surface in their inquiry, and try to delve deeper into the intimate and sometimes hidden spheres of personal life, emotion, and social practice. A wonderful collection of engaging and timely studies!” – Li Zhang, author of In Search of Paradise: Middle Class Living in a Chinese Metropolis
"Deep China provides an indispensable antidote to the copious body of politically and economically oriented literature that dominates current writing about the Chinese super-power. This scholarly collection of ethnographic essays depicts the way in which Chinese are confronting and creating an entirely new moral landscape, one strikingly discordant with that of the recent past. Profound tensions between individual aspirations and claims made by families and social and political collectivities are laid bare through insightful discussion of suicide, depression, changing sexual mores, and much more." --Margaret Lock, author of Twice Dead: Organ Transplants and the Reinvention of Death
"Eschewing the broad brush and facile generalizations that make for instant China experts, Deep China examines the struggles, accommodations, and embodied sufferings and pleasures of individual Chinese people at an unprecedented moment in their moral history. True to its title, it adds dimensions to its subject." --Haun Saussy, author of Great Walls of Discourse
The Changing Moral Landscape
This chapter depicts the changing moral landscape in contemporary China. In nature, growing plants, blossoming flowers, flowing creeks, and floating clouds animate the earth and the sky. In a similar vein, the new ideas, ideals, and actions of individuals and the constant negotiations about their appropriateness bring life to the norms, values, and behavioral patterns in a society: this is the moral landscape. The regeneration of life bestows the unbounded beauty of nature; the remaking of the person-the moral person-makes the moral landscape into a limitless space of public reflection and intellectual exploration. Consider the following snapshots of everyday life.
In the summer of 2008, I conducted interviews with nine young people in Shanghai, all of whom went to Sichuan as volunteers after the May earthquake. I learned a great deal from them about the moral visions of Chinese youth, including some very interesting new developments that challenge the conventional understanding of Chinese ethics as collectively oriented. For example, when a twenty-five-year-old woman mentioned that she submits her salary to her mother, without thinking I praised her for being a filial daughter. She replied with a cunning smile: "You think I am filial because I give my income to Mom, right? But you probably don't understand the deal here."
It turned out that each month she gave her mother three thousand yuan out of her monthly salary of 3,500 yuan. But she lived with her parents, meaning free room and board, and received pocket money from her mother frequently, as she explained:
Whenever I want something, I just go to my mother. I did a rough calculation a few months ago and found out that I need at least five thousand yuan per month for basic expenditures. But I also need to change my cell phone every year and my parents pay for it; I often travel with friends to other parts of the country and my parents pay for it. And I need to drink Starbucks coffee every day and my parents pay for that too. I guess by now you would think I am not that filial anymore, right?
I finally admitted to her that, in my mind, an adult child should financially help parents, instead of relying on parental support. By this standard, she is probably not as filial as I thought in the first place. Quite intriguingly, she replied: "You are wrong again. I am quite filial. Why? Do you know what my parents' biggest hope is? My happiness! If I live a happy life, they will be happy. This is exactly what I am doing, and they are indeed very happy." At that moment, I felt like an idiot, but at the same time I was also excited by her new interpretation of filial piety, because it seemed to indicate an important ethical change. Two weeks later, I brought the issue up to a small group of young men in Xiajia Village, about 1,300 miles away from Shanghai, where I lived as an ordinary farmer from 1971 to 1978 and have returned to do fieldwork eleven times since 1989. Although these villagers were not as articulate as the young woman in Shanghai, they gave me similar answers: their happiness in life makes their parents happy and thus their pursuit of pleasure and comfort in life should be viewed as their way of fulfilling the duty of filial piety. Such an interpretation of filial piety in terms of one's own happiness is obviously quite different from the traditional definition in which one is expected to sacrifice one's time, labor, wealth, and even life to make parents happy.
In contemporary China, individual narratives about the pursuit of happiness typically include the elements of aspiration, determination, and hard work as well as the importance of personal connections (guanxi). For most people the key point of departure is the revelation that their individualism is central to their moral obligations and practices. In her vivid and insightful portrait of factory girls who migrated from the countryside to work in the cities, Leslie T. Chang (2008) takes a closer look at the various efforts that these young women make to reinvent themselves, to become someone they long to be. Some underage girls used the identity cards of a cousin or a classmate and as time went by they became so closely identified with the fake name that they would not answer to their real names. Many others took commercial classes during their very limited spare time so that they could upgrade their work skills and move up to a higher level. As a seventeen-year-old girl states in an inspirational speech to fellow factory workers: "In a factory with one thousand or ten thousand people, to have the boss discover you is very hard. You must discover yourself. You must develop yourself. To jump out of the factory, you must study. You are here because you don't want to be an ordinary worker with a dull life. If you are waiting for your company to lift you up, you will grow old waiting" (Chang 2008: 174). By sitting in on a white-collar secretarial skills special training class, Chang observed and experienced what the young women were learning and how the knowledge was taught. The class ignored writing and never gave any exams; instead, it focused on instilling the confidence to speak up and providing knowledge of the white-collar work environment and proper etiquette and manners, ranging from the choice of color of one's clothing to the appropriate ways to sit and to walk. Individualism is one of the central messages, but it is promoted with a traditional appeal: by lifting yourself up, you will also lift up your whole family. Another key message is equally individualistic, but with a postmodern twist: if you look and act like someone of a higher class, you will become that person. This class, as well as many other classes, actually offers rural girls, most of whom are excluded from the formal education system for various reasons, a second chance to become the person they want to be. Many of them highly appreciate this opportunity. Work ethics, however, never came up as a subject in the class. As Chang observed, students learn how the office world functioned so that they can use the knowledge to lie their way into jobs for which they are not qualified (white-collar jobs normally require a college diploma). Both teachers and students know the game and play it well, because they all accept the simple fact that people who are too honest are those who will lose out (see Chang 2008: 171-189).
In contrast, ethics and the cultivation of virtues are the precise focal point for a group of affluent professionals and private entrepreneurs who live in a gated community of upscale high-rise apartments and low-rise villas in Beijing. During the summer of 2008 I participated in several study sessions in which I found the remaking of the moral person quite revealing. Once a week, a group of ten to fifteen gathered in the spacious living room in the home of the group leader, a freelance writer and community organizer. They studied ethical books used in kindergarten and primary schools in the United States and European countries, reading the texts aloud, doing the exercises related to each topic, and then holding soul-searching discussions that related the topic of the day-a particular virtue-to their life experiences at work and in the community.
On the day of my third visit, the virtue being studied was gentleness (wenrou). Some male participants questioned the relevance of gentleness as a virtue since it is associated with femininity. Their perspective was criticized by some women who argued that the core of gentleness is to be sensitive to other people's feelings and not to hurt others, including nonhumans. Finally, the group reached an agreement that what makes gentleness a virtue is the underlying idea of equality-if one believes that people are all equal in moral worth, one will treat others with respect and sensitivity and thus will be gentle. Many of the participants then began to discuss the lack of gentleness in everyday life in Beijing, and some reflected on the rude ways of dealing with subordinates at work, a common phenomenon in their own life experiences. I must add that these people did not merely talk and reflect; they also actively participated in community and volunteer activities. One of their primary concerns was how to become a nicer person; yet, they all agreed that this is not easy in today's world as they all have had the experience of knowingly doing the wrong things. The study group thus also functions as a type of do-it-yourself psychological therapy for the participants.
It certainly would be wrong to assume that individual moral reflection and critique are positively correlated with one's social status or accumulated wealth. There is much evidence, in both officially published sources and public opinion, that shows how the rich and powerful violate basic moral principles and reap huge profits at the expense of the interest of others, such as the numerous cases of official corruption, money-power exchange scandals in real-estate development, and slave labor. Equally important are cases of rank-and-file individuals standing up to seek social justice, protect the weak, and cultivate the moral self. The most courageous are those individuals who fight valiantly for dignity, integrity, and decency from the margins of society. In a recent case, for example, a migrant worker-turned-small businessman turned himself in and confessed his counterfeiting and fraud. For more than two years, he had made money by purchasing inferior ice cream bars and frozen dumplings, repackaging them as high-quality brand-name products, and then selling them at a profit to lower-end retail stores. As his business took off, he began to suffer increasing guilt for cheating and damaging the health of consumers by selling low-quality frozen dumplings. It took him several months of intense self-questioning, interrogation with his conscience, and consideration of the cost of confession that could lead to several years in prison. The 2008 scandal of tainted milk powder and the prospect of becoming a father led to a breakthrough as he came to realize the responsibility of the individual to make a better society. Thereafter, he turned himself in and confessed (W. Zhang 2009).
What do these stories tell us about contemporary China? Most obviously, individuals making their own moral judgments and decisions is a common thread that runs through all these episodes; more often than not, by making moral judgments these individuals also redefine what it means to be a proper person in today's China and how to live up to it. "You must discover yourself. You must develop yourself," as the seventeen-year-old migrant worker whom I cited earlier proclaimed. The moral implications and consequences of the individual in self-discovery and self-development thus constitute the central theme of this chapter.
In the following pages, I will first examine the changing moral landscape at the level of ethical discourse on what is moral and how to be a moral person. Despite the continued insistence on socialist civilization and collective ethics in the official discourse, the most important change in popular discourse and moral practice has been a shift away from an authoritarian, collective ethics of responsibilities and self-sacrifice toward a new, optional, and individualistic ethics of rights and self-development. In the next section, I unpack the prevailing public perception of moral decline or moral crisis since the 1980s, and I identify three major ways through which such a perception is formed. In the third section, I take a closer look at the opposing trends at the level of moral practices: on the one side, the various sorts of immorality or morally disturbing behaviors that form the factual basis for the perception of moral crisis; on the other, the emerging new moral practices that are individual-centered yet tending toward more universal values. Together, these three sections lead to the conclusion that the moral landscape in post-Mao China has undergone a profound shake-up, and in many ways has been radically changed by the rise of the new ethics of individual rights and self-development. Yet, the collective ethics of duties and self-sacrifice remain deeply embedded in the everyday life of Chinese individuals. This contradiction causes not only the entanglement and confusion of different values and behavioral norms, but also tensions and conflicts in moral practice, making the moral landscape highly dynamic, complex, and uncertain.
The Ethical Shift from Responsibilities to Rights
In the early spring of 1980, a young female worker named Huang Xiaoju sent a long letter to China Youth (Zhongguo qingnian), the official mouthpiece of the Communist Youth League. In the letter, she described her experiences during the Cultural Revolution, her disappointment with the existing collective ideals and beliefs, and her rethinking of the relationship between self and society. Her letter attracted the attention of the journal's editors because at the time party leaders had already noted worrisome changes in people's thoughts and sentiments, especially suspicion of socialist ideals and values and frustration in adapting to the rapid changes in society during economic reform. The editors (under instructions from party leaders, of course) helped Huang revise her letter and also included some ideas from another letter written by a college student, Pan Yi. The journal then published the letter under the pseudonym Pan Xiao, taking one character from each of the authors' names, under the title "Why Is Life's Road Becoming Narrower and Narrower?" in the May 1980 issue.
The published letter touched the heart and soul of millions of people, old and young alike. By the end of the year, China Youth had received some sixty thousand letters from readers, 111 of which were published in subsequent issues. On June 12, China Youth Daily (Zhongguo qingnian bao), another mouthpiece of the Communist Youth League, began a special column to discuss the meaning of life and by the end of the year it had received more than seventy thousand contributions, two hundred of which the newspaper then published. At the same time, a large number of provincial and municipal newspapers and magazines, especially those targeting youth, also launched discussions along the same lines (for a detailed study, see Xu 2002: 51-71).
Two points in the Pan Xiao letter became the focus of debate. First, it describes the disillusionment with Communist ideals because of the gap between the ideals and reality; second, it demonstrates how through a journey of soul-searching many Chinese finally realized that selfishness is actually a part of human nature, and, in reality, everyone struggles to achieve her or his own goals, despite all the empty talk of selflessness and sacrifice for the collective interest.
At that time, both the disillusionment with collective moral values and the realization of selfishness as part of human nature were in direct conflict with the Party ideology and the Communist ethical discourse. The wide and enthusiastic responses from all over the country confirmed the Party leaders' worries that many people shared the opinions expressed in the Pan Xiao letter. This is why the debate on the meaning of life continued for so long and reached the entire nation, profoundly affecting millions of people. For example, the founder of the Lebaishi Group, one of the largest soft-drink companies in China, recalled the debate as a wake-up call. At the time, he was a branch leader of the Communist Youth League in rural Guangdong and was involved in serious discussions with a female colleague about the questions raised in the Pan Xiao letter. They concluded that self-development was the moral and best way to make a contribution to society. They later married and became nationally famous private entrepreneurs (see Wu 2007: 55). Many people whom I interviewed recalled that the debate was similar to a political campaign. Individuals were organized by the local youth league or other organizations to discuss both the letter and the meaning of life, debating whether or not people are selfish by nature and coming to a consensus point that the correct way to pursue self-interest is "subjectively for oneself, but objectively for all others" (zhuguan wei ziji, keguan wei dajia).
The fact that after so many years people still remember their participation in the debate reveals its deep imprint on their moral experience. The most important impact that people remember is the beginning of a departure from a morality of collective responsibilities to the justification for self-interest, which, as the earlier quote shows, was packaged diplomatically so as to avoid offending Communist ethics.
The significance of the 1980 debate on the meaning of life is that it marked the first open departure from the dominance of a collective ethics that can be traced back to Confucian ethics in Chinese history. From Confucian ethics and traditional culture to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the People's Republic, the emphasis on the absolute primacy and supremacy of the collective over the individual continued; what had changed was merely the replacement of the family, kinship groups, and the emperor with socialist collectives, the Communist Party, and Chairman Mao. The Communist ethical discourse went even further to deny the meaning and value of the self by promoting new values of complete impartiality and selflessness, "seeking no advantage for oneself, pursuing benefits only for others," and "being a rustless screw of the revolutionary machine." An awareness of the self was unhealthy because one was supposed to dedicate one's entire life to the Communist cause and to always follow the instructions of the CCP and Chairman Mao. Needless to say, it was immoral to pursue self-interest (see Madsen 1984).
There was, however, a gap between the Communist ethical discourse and the people's actual moral practices during both the Mao and post-Mao eras. Even during the radical years of the Cultural Revolution, many villagers still tended the crops in their private lots with greater care than those in the collective farms, and workers found various ways to advance their personal interests. Yet, because of the dominant influence of Communist ethics, the pursuit of self-interest not only lacked legitimacy in public but also could have negative effects on the individual. The psychological suffering and painful experience of battling against one's intuitive self-awareness, for example, are vividly described in the Pan Xiao letter:
Having seen through life, I acquired a dual personality. On the one hand, I denounced this vulgar reality. On the other hand, I rode with the waves. Hegel once said: 'Whatever is realistic is rational, whatever is rational is realistic.' This has almost become a motto with which I comfort myself and soothe my wounds. I am human. I am not a noble person, but I am a rational one, just like all other rational beings. I fight about wages; I calculate bonuses. I learn to flatter, to lie.... Doing such things, I feel terrible inside. Then I remember Hegel's words and I become calm.
It would be quite difficult for any Chinese individual in the twenty-first century to understand why the authors of Pan Xiao felt guilty about their modest desires for bonuses and high wages, and many would not see anything wrong in their "riding with the waves." Yet, in the 1980s, considerations of personal interest were indeed regarded as immoral under Communist ethics, and the illegitimacy of self-interest made a morally sensitive person "feel terrible inside," as Pan Xiao put it.
Moreover, political campaigns, study groups, educational propaganda, and various mechanisms of awards and punishments created a rather oppressive environment for those who dared to put the self above the collective (Madsen 1984). For instance, moonlighting during spare time was considered immoral until the mid-1980s; as an employee of the state, one should not take up a second job elsewhere because, implicitly, one's spare time also belongs to the party-state. This was by no means mere rhetoric; serious punishment was a definite possibility. In 1985 an engineer named Zheng at a Shanghai textile factory was imprisoned for working at a private company during his spare time. Another engineer named Huang who had made six hundred yuan by moonlighting at a rural enterprise was sentenced to three hundred days imprisonment (Wu 2007: 86).
Despite the powerful constraints of Communist ethics and the associated regulations against individual interests, the trend of self-awareness and the emerging individual-centered morality of rights and self-realization seemed to be unstoppable. Throughout the 1980s, the official media and party propaganda outlets were filled with warnings about a moral crisis on the rise, known as the crisis of the three absences: the absence of moral values, beliefs, and confidence in Communist ideology. Interestingly, many people, especially the youth, seemed to care little about the officially defined moral crisis; instead, they embraced the accusations of lacking Communist/collective values and beliefs as a breakthrough in their search for the new self. This new moral experience was best expressed by Cui Jian, China's first rock star, in his famous song "I have nothing." As a Chinese scholar points out, the claim "I have nothing" actually represents an upbeat spirit of self-searching: "We live by seeking, searching for self, not because we have really lost ourselves, but because we have never really possessed our true selves. It is true, then, we have nothing" (Q. Liu 1988).
The collective morality of responsibility and self-sacrifice seemed to lose ground by the early 1990s, especially after Deng Xiaoping restored the market reforms in his south China tour. Thousands of scientists, artists, scholars, and government officials, including high-ranking party cadres, quit their jobs in the public sector, which formerly had been considered a symbol of their social achievement, and either joined or established their own private companies to make money by engaging in commercial activities. The large number of government officials involved in commercial activities quickly led to an upsurge of corruption among power holders, the moral implications of which will be explored later in this chapter. It is important here to note that the rush by the political and cultural elite to make money signaled the legitimacy of self-interest, profit-making, and a materialistic fetish. Consequently, the mentality and behavior among ordinary people began to change as well. As I note elsewhere (1994), being poor, which was regarded in the Communist ideology as an important marker of being part of the revolutionary force, came to be regarded as disgraceful. By the late 1990s the urge to make money had turned into a new fetish for monetary success. Moreover, individuals began to have a strong sense of competition; more and more people worked a second job in order to make extra money. Furthermore, the gradually emerging notion of a "Chinese dream" came to be shared by those who wished to become rich and successful, including many villagers who left their homes to seek better opportunities in the cities (Yan 1994).
The declining influence of collective values and Communist morality in everyday life does not mean that collective action disappeared. On the contrary, during the same period of shifting moral practices and ethical discourse, Chinese society began to witness the rise of new forms of public protests and social turbulence by which villagers, workers, and property owners took to the streets to protect their individual rights, such as the right to work, the right to have farm land, or the right to property (Lee 2007; O'Brien and Li 2006). Since the early 1990s, an increasing number of individuals have stood up to protect their interests against various predatory forces, such as developers, big companies, and local government agencies, and the number of public protests and the amount of social unrest have increased annually. The seemingly shocking number of more than one hundred cases of public protests in 1993 pales with that of more than seventy thousand in 2003, the year that was unofficially referred to as "the year of rights assertion" by the Chinese media, and eighty-seven thousand in 2005.
Focusing on villagers' actions, O'Brien and Li (2006) call these protests "rightful resistance" and highlight the following three features: operation near the boundary of an authorized channel, employment of the rhetoric and commitment of the powerful, and strategies to exploit divisions among the powerful. After carefully examining cases of public protests among workers in both the old industrial areas and the newly developed coastal cities, Lee (2007) wonders to what extent the protests might challenge the authority and legitimacy of the party-state, and whether in their protests against local authorities, these rights movements are actually seeking the intervention of the central government. What has been advanced by labor movements is social change instead of political change. Similar questions are raised by scholars studying the rights movements among urban homeowners, especially those initiated by displaced urban residents who were caught up in the rapid and often brutal process of urban development (Read 2008; Zhang 2010: 137-162). The most developed, however, is the assertion of consumer rights, which clearly and closely evolved around the rise of self-awareness and individual-centered ethics (Hooper 2005).
A similar ethical shift occurred in the sphere of private life. Based on longitudinal field research over a period of twelve years in a north China village, I charted the transformation of the private life sphere from the 1950s to the 1990s and discovered that the most salient feature of the individualization of rural families lies in the rise of the individual rather than in the changing family size or structure, and, consequently, the rise of a new ethics discourse that favors the individual. In everyday life, this is mostly reflected in the legitimization of individual desires for intimacy, privacy, freedom, and material comforts as well as in the actual pursuit of these desires. Unlike the traditional family, in which a person was nothing more than the personification of the family line, the contemporary individual is more interested in his or her personal happiness and the well-being of a narrowly defined private family (see Yan 2003). This is aptly illustrated, for example, by the changing nature of marriage transactions.
The practice of bridewealth was legally banned in China by the 1950 Marriage Law, although in reality it continued in various forms. The intriguing point is that by the 1980s urban and rural youth had gained power and independence in mate choice, marriage negotiations, and postmarital residence, yet the practice of marriage transactions remained intact and the standard value of bridewealth and dowry has continued to increase annually. For instance, in the village I studied, the standard cost of marital gifts increased from four to five thousand yuan in 1989 to sixty to seventy thousand yuan in 2008. In affluent metropolitan cities like Shanghai, the current standard is to receive at least a two-bedroom flat as bridewealth and a car as dowry, a quite firm demand that has contributed to the housing bubble in the new century.
Why has bridewealth survived radical socialist transformations and continued to get stronger? The key lies in a switch of the bridewealth recipients. Starting in the 1980s, the groom's family began to give bridewealth in both monetary and material forms directly to the bride who kept it for herself instead of giving it to her parents. Typically, after her wedding the bride uses bridewealth to fund her conjugal family, meaning that her husband benefits from the marital gifts as well. Consequently, young people are highly motivated to receive as much bridewealth and dowry as possible and they strategize in various ways to raise the standard payments, squeezing increasingly more money out of their parents.
To justify their demands for a lavish bridewealth and dowry, Chinese youth resort to the notion of individual property rights and to the rhetoric of individualism, claiming that they should receive their share of the family property, while overlooking the fact that many parents must work extra hard and often have to borrow the funds to meet their children's marriage needs. Ironically, many youth have claimed that demanding financial support is a matter of personal freedom (geren ziyou) or of having individuality (you gexing). When I discussed the same issue with college students in Shanghai in 2007 and 2008, I received answers essentially similar to those from the village youth, even though the college students could articulate their points in a much more sophisticated way (Yan 2009: 155-182).
Under the old collective system of ethics, the demand for excessive bridewealth and dowry for one's own interest would be regarded as selfish and absolutely immoral, because one was socialized to put family interest above self-interest and to respect the wishes of one's parents regarding these matters. The youth today-rural and urban alike-have gained freedom and independence from parental control when dealing with sex, mate choice, and marriage; yet they also make every effort to squeeze money out of their parents' pockets and they do not see anything morally unjustifiable in their behavior. When faced with criticism that they are being selfish, they simply shrug it off, arguing that selfishness is part of human nature. The point I want to emphasize here is that one's open claim of self-interest against that of the family may be accepted as legitimate by all those involved, which clearly indicates the shift of moral emphasis from family responsibilities and self-sacrifice to individual rights and self-realization. Similarly, the new interpretation of filial piety in terms of one's own happiness, as reflected in the opening story of this chapter, indicates such an ethical shift. In addition, the fact that the sanctioning power of accusing someone of being selfish has now become insignificant also shows how much the moral landscape in China has changed in comparison with the central issue in the debate over the Pan Xiao letter in 1980.
A notable study in this regard is Lisa Rofel's book Desiring China (2007), in which she examines a sea change that began to sweep through China in the 1990s. The Maoist culture of politics and associated socialist experiments were replaced by a state-initiated discovery of a universal human nature of individual desires and the various new forms of public culture that legitimize and promote both individual and national desires. Through a detailed and vivid description of television dramas, museum displays, legal cases, and other forms of public narrations of desires of various sorts in urban China, she argues that it is by constituting a subject who desires-a neoliberal practice of governance-that the party-state was able to regain its legitimacy of political monopoly in the post-1989 setting. By the same process, the Chinese individual was also able to create the link between the new self and the new cosmopolitan ethics of global neoliberalism and consumerism (Rofel 2007). Rofel does not explore, however, the ethical underpinnings and moral implications of this sea change, because her theoretical focus is set on the global trend of neoliberal governmentality and associated scholarly debates. Her ethnography, quite interestingly, also tells the story of the ethical shift from a collective system of responsibility and self-sacrifice to an individualistic system of rights and self-development, a point that was less emphasized. This ethical shift, in my opinion, may help us to better understand not only how but also why the rise of individual desires in post-1989 China is so important.
Moreover, I would argue that one cannot fully understand these rapid and radical changes in Chinese social life unless one takes into full consideration the shifting ethical discourse and moral practice. These cases reflect only the tip of the iceberg. The silent yet deep sexual revolution, the importance of romantic love, mutual understanding, and emotional attachment in personal relations, and the increase in depression, isolation, divorce, and suicide are all related to the shifting focus from responsibilities to rights, from self-sacrifice to self-realization, and ultimately from collectivity to individuality (see the chapters by Sing Lee, Wu Fei, and Everett Zhang in this volume for full discussions of these topics).
Unpacking the Public Perception of Moral Crisis
Understandably, such a shift in ethics and moral practice is not easy, because it both challenges the existing order of the moral universe and also creates winners and losers, and sometimes even victims. The judgment on each specific change brought about by this moral shift to a great extent depends on the perspectives of different individuals: where some see moral decline and crisis, others may find the rise of a new ethics. Yet, more often than not, people tend to generalize about the changing moral landscape too quickly and vaguely, leaving out the specifics of the temporal, spatial, and social contexts as well as the concrete communications, negotiations, and engagements in moral practice.
For instance, in 2007 (after the abolition of the agricultural taxes and other levies in 2005) a Chinese scholar asserted that the earlier crisis of governance in rural China had been replaced by a new crisis of ethics that had developed to the dangerous level of undermining social stability (Shen 2007). His view was echoed strongly by many at the time, and his article was not only reprinted in several scholarly journals but also appeared in a number of popular magazines and newspapers. To demonstrate this crisis, he cited a moral decline in two areas: the increase in the divorce rate and the fetish for money in villages. According to his observations, the high divorce rate was caused mainly by young women's loose attitude toward sex and marriage and their yearning for a comfortable material life. As for the money fetish, the scholar found it puzzling that villagers did not look down upon those young women who made money as sex workers in cities. On the contrary, after returning home, these young women used their earnings to help their parents build new houses, to participate in normal gift exchanges, and to fulfill their moral duties like everyone else. In the absence of any stigma, these former sex workers were not only tolerated but even respected by the villagers (Shen 2007).
Is this a crisis of moral decline or a radical change in both ethical discourse and moral practices in rural China? By whose standard should these young women's attitudes toward sex and marriage be judged as loose? Why is the yearning for a comfortable life unethical? It turns out that the criticism of the young women's behavior came mainly from the older male villagers who still upheld the conventional ethics of collective responsibility. Thus, they disapproved of the women's pursuit of personal happiness and material comfort. Ironically, it is also by the same standard of collective responsibility that these elderly male villagers regarded financial contributions from the young women as evidence of their being filial, and therefore they did not discriminate against these former sex workers, whom they viewed as returning to the village to fulfill their family duties after making money in the cities. Here, the tension and conflict derive from the entanglement of individualistic and collectivistic ethics in real life across generational and gender lines. To what extent there is a moral crisis in this particular rural community, therefore, remains questionable. Yet, it is more important to ask why general statements of moral crisis like Shen's resonate so well with the public and why, since the late 1980s, a public perception of moral decay has circulated so widely in China.
Three Ways of Perceiving a Moral Crisis
To better understand the complexity of these issues, we need to make a distinction between the perception of a moral crisis and the reality of moral changes-good and bad alike. In an insightful analysis of the perception of a crisis in American values, Wayne Baker (2005) identifies three ways by which people perceive such a crisis. The first is to focus on the loss of traditional values by comparing the present with the past, the second is the unfavorable comparison of American society with other societies in terms of prevailing values, and the third derives from the division of American society into opposing groups with irreconcilable moral differences, that is, a culture war. With some modifications, Baker's approach can be applied to the Chinese case, as all three ways of thinking play a role in the making of a public perception of moral decline or crisis.
First, as far as values and moral practices are concerned, people from all walks of life tend to idealize the past and to use it to critique unsatisfying aspects of the present. Loss of traditional values is but one common complaint; another focuses on the moral decay of the younger generations who not only forget the traditional but also break the status quo by thinking and behaving differently from the older generations. The faster a society changes, the more complaints there are about the alleged lost paradise. This line of argument started in China more than 2,500 years ago with Confucius, who lamented the lost values and proprieties of the golden era of Duke Zhou. Similarly, the current complaints idealize social life under Mao as an era of high moral standards because all the major moral problems in the reform era, such as cadre corruption, commercial cheating, distrust of the public, and various forms of negative competition did not exist (at least to the same extent) in those egalitarian times. Moreover, the shift from collective ethics to individualistic ethics is not only rapid but also fundamental and thus only makes more acute the felt pain, confusion, and loss of direction among many Chinese individuals, especially those who prefer to have the protection of collectivism.
It is true that under Mao officials were much less corrupt in financial matters, yet the abuse of political power was more severe; commercial scams almost never existed under the planned economy, yet many more people suffered from the endless political battles. It is also true that public trust in the CCP, the government, and social institutions was high and trust in Mao was at the level of an irrational cult, yet nearly all people feared being reported on by others, including their closest family members and best friends. Under the Communist virtues of impartiality and selflessness, many individuals abused themselves mentally and others underwent brainwashing sessions and sometimes acted (such as during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution) to expel the selfishness from their souls. Yet, recognition and rewards from the CCP and the government remained personal. Hence, the activists during the Mao era acted out of selfish motivations. The most fundamental difference is the dominance of the collective morality of responsibilities that was exalted during the Maoist era but quickly collapsed thereafter. The total denial of individual rights and of an individual identity by Maoist socialism, which was at least as unethical as any other vice, has been either forgotten or purposely neglected by the critics of contemporary moral practices, thus giving rise to a perception of moral decline. The same logic can be applied to those who have gone further in time to idealize Chinese ethics and moral practices during the pre-Communist, premodern, or even classical periods. For example, the divorce rate was low or even nonexistent in traditional China, but this was because of the unethical practice of subordinating women and denying their rights.
The unfavorable comparison approach contributes to the perception of a moral decline in China primarily in one area, that is, the cultivation of civility in public space. This was an issue at the turn of the last century, and leading Chinese intellectuals like Liang Qichao, Liang Shumin, Hu Shi, and Fei Xiaotong all regarded the absence of public morality as a serious problem in Chinese society. There were comparable discussions in Japan and the United States, commonly focusing on issues of clean governance, observation of public rules, awareness of public hygiene, public participation, and tolerance, honesty, and compassion toward strangers in public interactions. China ranked much lower in these comparisons, the main reason for which, as identified by the Chinese elite, was the selfishness of Chinese individuals.
Two points should be noted here. First, the unfavorable comparison approach has been used primarily to critique the lack of civility, or public morality (gongde) as it is commonly referred in Chinese. Second, this kind of moral comparison tended to be more frequent and attract more public attention when China's influence on the stage of international politics was perceived by the public as weak, such as during the turn of the last century or during the early stages of the post-Mao reform. Whenever nationalism and self-confidence were high, such as during the Mao era or during China's recent global rise, such unfavorable comparisons tended to decline. Thus, the unfavorable comparison approach contributes to a public perception of a moral crisis in a different way and at a different time from that of the lost-paradise approach.
Baker's third way of thinking about a moral crisis-as a culture war-is probably less relevant in China. First, Communist ethics remains the official discourse and the party-state still monopolizes power to determine the fate of any new public discourse. In order to survive, any new or renewed ethical discourse must win, often by fighting against other discourses, the tolerance and recognition of the official discourse. Thus, there is not yet any culture war among the legitimized ethical discourses. Second, the gap between ethical discourse and moral practice has constantly grown in the postreform era because of the politically sanctioned dominance of the Communist ethical discourse and its detachment from the moral practices of most Communist party members and officials (Wang 2002). As a result, people tend to treat the diversity of values like a supermarket option, justifying their moral practices with different values in different contexts.
Yet, at a deep level the diversification of values, including most notably the shift from collective ethics to individualistic ethics, indeed plays a crucial role in constituting a public perception of a moral decline or crisis. First, the personified and mystified moral authority, be it Confucius or Mao, no longer exists, and the dominance of a single version of collective ethics has ended. This has led to a national panic about a "moral vacuum." The so-called moral vacuum cannot be true in real life as people always make judgments about right or wrong in accordance with some values or beliefs, but it could be true in one's subjective experience, inasmuch as moral practices are observed that do not fit with any previously prevailing ethical standards. The collapse of traditional and Maoist moral authorities also led to widespread disillusion and cynicism among many people, and, when the pursuit for wealth seemed to be the only driving force in social life the very foundation of the self appeared to crumble, resulting in the alienation and alteration of the self (Ci 1994; X. Liu 2002; Wang 2002).
This perceived moral vacuum is particularly true for the older generations who are more accustomed to a homogeneous, unified value system. "I don't know what to believe" and "I cannot understand why so-and-so thinks or behaves in this way" are among the typical reflections on the loss of an absolute moral authority. This sense of confusion with diverse and sometime conflicting values and moral practices has become stronger as Chinese society is rapidly becoming more open and heterogeneous, which also explains why the alarm about an impending moral crisis has been in the air since the 1980s. Although the content of the perceived crisis has changed, the perception of a moral decline continues.
Second, although there is no culture war per se in China, the conflict of values and beliefs caused by radical social changes is something that Chinese individuals experience daily. Elsewhere, I took a close look at the changes in the social evaluation of the moral quality laoshi, which implies a cluster of personal attributes, such as honesty, frankness, good behavior, obedience, and simple-mindedness. Among these, obedience and honesty are emphasized more frequently in everyday life discourse. Until the early 1980s, being laoshi was a highly regarded merit in village society, and laoshi boys were normally welcomed as ideal mates and as trustworthy individuals in public life. But in the postreform era, laoshi has gradually become a negative term, and a male who is labeled as laoshi is looked down upon by ambitious young women for a number of reasons (Yan 2003: 77-78). According to Zhu Li's questionnaire survey of one thousand people in 2002 and 2003, for example, nearly 60 percent of the people surveyed regard laoshi as an outdated value that only hurt one's personal interest in today's China (Zhu 2006:343).
In my opinion, laoshi is a valuable moral quality adaptable for in-group social interactions associated with low mobility. When villagers were basically confined within the closely-knit local community and interacted only with people who were in the existing social networks, laoshi meant trustworthy and reliable, thus reducing transaction costs in social life. However, other merits of being laoshi, such as naïveté and honesty, turn out to be fatal shortcomings outside the local community, especially in the postreform era when villagers have had to deal with strangers in the unregulated market. Under these new circumstances, laoshi invites aggression and cheating; a laoshi husband can hardly provide the kind of safety and protection that a wife desires. Equally important, a nonvocal but hardworking young man may meet parental or in-law expectations from a familial perspective, but he does not necessarily fit the increasing demands for intimacy and companionship from young women as individuals. In other words, the existence or absence of social mobility, interactions with strangers, and individual choice determines whether being laoshi or not is a good moral quality at a given time.
In her insightful study of the sex industry in the northeastern city of Dalian, Zheng Tiantian (2009) examines both the everyday life and subjective world of a group of female sex workers. Contrary to the widely accepted view that sex workers are demoralized by the mainstream morality's negative view of prostitution, Zheng reveals how her informants gradually develop a new "moral vision" out of their experience of oppression and discrimination that rejects the dominant values regarding love, marriage, and family. By way of this moral vision, "commodification of the body and commodification of romance and intimacy are transformed from a denigration of female virtue into a route to empowerment" (Zheng 2009: 222). This new moral vision, needless to say, runs into a head-to-head collision with the traditional Confucian ethics and patriarchal definition of female virtue, contributing to the perception of moral decay or crisis among both scholars (see Shen 2007) and the populace.
The Entanglement of the Old and the New
In addition to the different ways of thinking about these moral changes, the emergence of new, unconventional social practices can also lead to a perception of moral decline by the majority in society. A good example in this connection is the sexual revolution that has silently yet forcefully pushed the envelope of sexual morality during the last three decades (see Zhang's chapter in this book). Premarital sex was taboo in the 1970s and a couple who intended to marry or even became engaged would be punished in various ways if they engaged in premarital sex. This taboo was widely challenged in the 1980s. A large number of high school and college students rapidly began to taste the forbidden fruit. By the turn of the twenty-first century, cohabitation had become a common practice among urban youth. Along this line of change, every step has caused a wave of perceived moral decline in sexual mores; yet, immoral behavior in one year became acceptable in the next year and then the standard thereafter.
Responding to the rapid social changes in China, individuals must often make moral decisions about their own behavior and moral judgments about others, many of which are both complicated, confusing, and, more often than not, are the result of entanglement of the old and new ethics. For example, a couple in Xiajia Village was regarded by their fellow villagers as unwise in the 1980s because they gave up trying to have a son after the birth of their second daughter. Against the widely shared wisdom about not investing too much in a daughter's education, the couple encouraged and supported their two daughters to attend the best local schools. The elder daughter graduated from a vocational school in 2003 and eventually landed a secretarial job in Beijing. The second daughter did even better, entering a good college in southern China in 2005. The elder daughter initially sent money home to help her parents buy an apartment in the provincial capital city of Harbin where they worked as street vendors. She then supported the college education of her younger sister who vowed to study even harder for a postgraduate degree and to earn more money to pay back her parents and elder sister in the future. The couple was widely admired until one day when a middle-aged woman from Beijing came to the village and accused the elder daughter of destroying the woman's marriage. It turned out that the elder daughter was living in an apartment with a regular stipend provided by her boss, a married man who was twice her age. It was only by becoming a mistress, the villagers told me, that the elder daughter had been able to send home so much money. Some regarded this as disgraceful and unacceptable, yet others praised the daughter for her devotion to her parents and her younger sister. How to make a fair moral judgment of her behavior became a highly controversial issue and was often debated among my informants during my interviews.
Finally, the ethical shift from responsibilities to rights that I describe should be viewed as a new, and, in my mind, the major trend in China's moral landscape. Yet, moral changes in the post-Mao era are certainly not unidirectional or one dimensional. While more and more Chinese individuals embrace the new ethics of individual rights and openly pursue various personal desires in both private and public life (Rofel 2007; Yan 2003), others lament the decline of collective ethics of responsibilities, especially the loss of the meaning of life that was previously defined by collective interests, and make the effort to preserve some collective values. The harmony and prosperity of the family remains the ultimate goal among the young migrant workers despite that they have left their parents to pursue their dream of personal development in remote urban areas (Hansen and Pang 2008). The sense of cultural belonging has grown ever stronger since the 1990s as more and more individuals, especially the rising middle class, want to showcase their Chineseness through lifestyle and public discourse; nationalism and consumerism emerged together as the main threads to construct the world of meanings for most Chinese youth; and being patriotic is fashionable too among young urban professionals (Gries 2004; Hoffman 2010; Jankowiak 2004; Rofel 2007). Moreover, individuals can also claim rights by way of the old collective ethics. For example, most workers who engaged in a rights assertion movement when they were laid off and the enterprises where they used to work were sold out or dismantled did so in accordance with the socialist value of industrial workers being the leading class of the new society (see Lee 2007). The returned overseas Chinese in a state farm refused to privatize the collective farm because they did not see themselves fit for the market economy. Quite interestingly, they resorted to collective ethics and patriotism and eventually won their battle (Li 2010).
Furthermore, individuals apply different moral logics that seem to be the most appropriate to a given case in a particular time. In their study of inheritance disputes in Shanghai, Davis and Lu (2003) discovered that when fighting over family real estate, people first take into consideration the pathway by which the family obtained the property. If it is a privately owned family property or sifang, the logic of family estate will be applied; if it is a residential unit allocated by the work unit or rented from the city's real-estate bureau (gongfang), a logic of the regulatory state will be emphasized; if it is a commercial flat purchased after the housing reform in China (shangpinfang), the logic of the law and market overrules other systems. Interestingly, in divorce cases, the division of the family real estate not only involves the consideration of the pathway of property ownership but also more traditional moral reasoning, such as punishing the guilty party and allocating more to the needy. The conclusion that Davis draws from her study unmistakably illustrates the entanglement of the old and the new ethics and moral reasoning: "As a result, even as they demonstrated fluency with the legal rules for establishing ownership to property, ordinary citizens continue to use their own experience and draw on context-specific moral reasoning. And because divorce settlements after 2003 have most often been finalized by xieyi (agreements) drawn up without legal advice and outside the courts, the contextual and personal logics of ordinary citizens play a central role in the maturation of a post-socialist property regime as it incorporates expectations and practices rooted in pre-socialist, socialist, and market experiences" (Davis 2010: 482).
Conflicting Trends in Changing Moral Practices
Turning to the practice dimension of the changing moral landscape, we find the situation is equally complex. Due to space limits, here I will only review the patterns of immorality as reflected in morally disturbing practices and the practices that reveal the trend of the new morality. The two trends, although diagonally opposite to each other at the surface level, are related to the deeper ethical shift from collective responsibilities to individual rights.
Morally disturbing experience, or immorality as perceived by local people, has been an understudied subject in anthropology. Most existing studies focus on the reproduction of the social order through coded norms of behavior, that is, concepts of the good and of ethics. Some recent efforts to renew the anthropology of morality turn to the other end, that is, the role of freedom and choice in ethical reflections among individuals (see Zigon 2008). Yet, looking at moral changes from the local people's perspective, I found immorality the most frequently addressed issue in daily conversations.
Immorality and Moral Crisis
The disturbing changes in old age security and the diminishing influence of the notion of filial piety also show that the public discourse on moral decline does not derive solely from ungrounded perceptions or differences in ethical values; instead, in most cases, the perceived moral decline or crisis has its base in social facts as well. If immorality is defined as an intentional violation of the prevailing ethical values and doing purposeful damage to other people's interests, there has indeed been a rise in individual acts that fall into these categories. Although the extent to which a violation of ethical values is immoral may sometimes depend on the larger context, as shown in the examples I have cited, deliberate harm to other people's interests through coercion, cheating, extortion, and abuse of power is widely viewed as immoral. Unfortunately, except for the political reporting and persecution that dominated the Maoist era, various other practices that benefit the actor at the expense of others have indeed been on the rise during the post-Mao reform era, clearly constituting the factual basis for the perception of a moral crisis.
Among all immoral behaviors, those that exceed the bottom line of morality-that is, those acts that violate the most basic and widely shared ethical values or intentionally hurt others in the most harmful of ways-have received a great deal of attention from both the popular media and academic circles. For example, it is considered to be crossing the bottom line of reciprocity when a distressed person who is helped by a stranger after an accident on the street turns around to accuse the Good Samaritan of being the original cause of the distress and attempts to extort money out of the Good Samaritan. And this has now become an established scam (for a detailed study, see Yan 2009). Unfortunately, it is by no means rare to find cases of extreme immoral behavior in today's China. Sociologist Sun Liping regards the lowering of the moral bottom line to be the most worrisome and potentially dangerous social problem in the rapidly changing moral landscape, because the constant assaults on the moral bottom line, the ethical bedrock of society, threaten the foundations of social life (Sun 2007, especially 1-9).
I would add that when extreme immoral behavior exceeds the level of isolated individual acts and involves a number of individuals in semiopen or open cooperation, the impact on the moral bottom line tends to be the greatest. This is because isolated individual acts, like the extortion of a Good Samaritan or commercial cheating, regardless of the frequency of their occurrence, do not shake ordinary people's trust in the society as a whole. In contrast, organized immoral behavior tends to involve institutions at various levels and thus develops into a kind of institutionalized immorality. Needless to say, the appearance of institutionalized immorality in any domain of social life will pose a serious challenge to the justice and fairness in society, and the cumulative result of an increasing number of acts of institutionalized immorality will indeed shake the basic ethical values and could potentially lead to a real moral crisis. The best illustration in this connection is the crisis of food safety and the ensuing national panic that it caused.
The production and distribution of fake and faulty goods have been a serious social problem since the mid-1980s, even before the rising tide of consumerism. To protect their rights, individual consumers have stood up in various ways to fight against fake and faulty goods. As early as 1985, the first consumer association was established in a county in Henan Province, and within a short period of time a nationwide network of consumer associations emerged. With financial support and semileadership from the state, the All-China Consumer Association quickly grew into the largest and strongest consumer organization, and a number of consumer protection laws were enacted. As a result, individual "consumer citizens," as Beverley Hooper puts it (2005), can fight against the market with the help of the state. It is fair to say that the awareness of individual rights among ordinary people began with an awareness of consumer rights, and in most cases the rights assertion movement in China has actually been a consumer movement.
Despite all the efforts for consumer protection, the problem of fake and faulty goods exacerbated over the years, culminating in the large-scale production and distribution of fake and contaminated foods and medicine that directly affected the health and lives of numerous consumers. One of the earliest safety scandals occurred in Jijiang County, Fujian Province. In 1980 local food processing factories began to produce fake medicines made of starch, sugar, and other common foodstuffs. Peasant producers managed to sell the fake medicine to state-owned hospitals and pharmacies by giving cash kick-backs to those in charge, thus making huge profits from the extremely low-cost fake products. By 1985, a total of fifty-seven factories in the county were specializing in the making of more than one hundred kinds of fake medicine and they quickly became a strong competitor to the state-owned pharmaceutical companies. Interestingly, it was the politically unhealthy development of rural industry challenging the state-owned enterprises, instead of the fake medicines hurting the consumers, that attracted the attention of the state. An explosive investigative report was published in the national People's Daily on June 16, 1985, exposing a large business scam and moral scandal that involved more than one thousand participants and various local government agencies. With more details revealed in other reports, the provincial party boss Xiang Nan, an important figure in promoting the economic reform in south China, resigned, becoming the highest-level political casualty of the food safety problem until 2008.
Unfortunately, the 1985 case of fake medicine was only the beginning of a nationwide wave of large-scale production and distribution of fake and faulty food products over the next twenty plus years. The contaminated baby formula produced by the Sanlu Group, a well-known joint-venture giant in the Chinese dairy business, is one of the latest that has caused a national public health and morality crisis. To artificially increase the amount of protein in inferior milk that was either diluted with water or spoiled, melamine, a chemical used to make plastic and to tan leather, was added, and the contaminated milk was used to produce baby formula, ice cream bars, and other products. By September 15, 2008, only Sanlu products had been found with melamine, and the company recalled seven hundred tons of baby formula. But on the following day a nationwide test conducted by the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection, and Quarantine (AQSIQ) revealed that the milk products of twenty-two out of the 109 inspected firms were also contaminated with melamine, including products at the two top firms of Yili and Mengniu. Although most contaminated products were being sold on the domestic market, some were also exported to Hong Kong. The known number of children stricken by the contamination rose to more than fifty-three thousand in less than two weeks, among whom four died and nearly 12,892 were hospitalized with kidney problems.
The most morally disturbing fact is the production and distribution of these products also involved various government institutions. Moreover, a large number of people were actively participating, most of whom were ordinary people who were the direct producers, such as construction workers and dairy farmers. Others were economic or political elite at various levels, such as entrepreneurs, managers, professionals in quality-control agencies, and government officials. Regardless of their social status or the roles they played, they were all well aware of the consequences of the scam, that is, the potential harm to the lives and health of others. Another example is from Xianghe County, Hebei Province, where farmers soaked the roots of chives in a powerful pesticide called 3911 so that the plants would grow extremely large. From 1999 to 2004 the pesticide was used on thousands of acres of chive fields. This was an open collective action; when the pesticide was applied there was a very strong acrid odor in the entire area. Yet, no government agency bothered to question this harmful practice until outside journalists began to report it. Fortunately, investigative reporting has become stronger in the era of reform and has played a key role in the maturation of regulation, criminal justice, and ethical discourse. Moreover, in most cases of faulty food products, the producers and distributors have revealed indifferent attitudes toward the victims or have justified their behavior with a particularistic ethics. In a 2004 case, a reporter from the Chinese Central Television Station asked workers in a rural factory producing colloidal food additive out of leather waste, including old shoes, whether they knew that the contaminated products would end up in food to be consumed by people. The producers replied lightly: "So what? They are strangers, and we do not know them at all. In this region, no one would eat foods with colloidal additives because we all know the secret" (CCTV 2004).
As in most societies, food is regarded as an important part of life in China, and the truism "you are what you eat" fits Chinese culture very well as most Chinese individuals believe that their minds and bodies are shaped by the food they eat. Scandals and scams involving faulty, fake, contaminated, and in some cases simply poisonous foods have had an extremely negative impact on the moral experience of ordinary people. In the last few years, a long list of unsafe foods has circulated on the Internet, including as many as fifty items ranging from the most ordinary like salted eggs to health-enhancing luxury items, which are produced by small and big companies alike. "How could one do such harm to so many innocent people?" was the most common question posed after food scandals in the 1980s and 1990s; the initial shock and disbelief gradually developed into an extremely cautious psychology among many consumers. Outraged and morally disturbed, many lamented that they no longer knew what was safe to eat and who was worthy of trust. Beneath this widespread public panic regarding food safety, there emerged a much deeper crisis in the moral universe, that is, the decline of social trust.
In a highly mobile and open society, most social interactions occur among individuals who are not related to one another by any particularistic ties; thus, in many cases, people do not expect to interact with the other party again in the future. In such a society of strangers, social trust is more important than personal trust. Social trust is understood as the more generalized trust in social institutions, that they will behave in accordance with the stated rules, in experts who will guard the rules to make the institutions work well, and also in strangers who will engage in peaceful and nonharmful social interactions. In contrast, personal trust is only invested in people who are in one's social web, ranging from family, kinship, and local community, to a wider yet still well-defined network of friends. Personal trust derives from long-term interactions with the same group of people and thus is based on low mobility and a narrower scope of social interactions. In such a society of acquaintances, strangers are potential enemies, experts are not generally needed, and institutions are mostly unwelcome unless they are politically imposed upon people. The expansion of personal trust to social trust provides one of the key mechanisms in making a modern economy and society work and thus becomes a necessary condition of modernity (see Giddens 1990).
Based on an established network of interpersonal relations, traditional Chinese morality features low social trust. As Fei Xiaotong points out, traditional Chinese society is organized through a differentiated mode of association in which individuals are positioned in a hierarchy of various relations, such as that between parents and children, husband and wife, and friends and friends. Moral rights and duties are defined and fulfilled differently in accordance with one's position in a given relationship. Many of the behavioral norms and moral values do not apply to people who are outside one's network of social relationships (Fei  1992: 71-79). As the social distance increases, suspicion increases as well and may turn to hostility when dealing with total strangers. The distrust of strangers is an important piece of the cultural knowledge that is transmitted from one generation to the next through both formal and informal channels (see Chen 2006: 118-155). Consequently, treating an outsider poorly is normally taken lightly in Chinese communities, whereas abuse of one's own people is viewed as morally unacceptable. Although this particularistic morality was attacked during the heyday of Maoist socialism and the state made radical attempts to promote a new set of universalistic values of socialist morality (Madsen 1984), the divide between in-group and out-group members remained strong throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Moreover, in the name of the revolution and class struggle, hostility toward a political stranger-the people who were labeled as the "class enemy"-was actually encouraged by the state and developed to an extreme level of brutality and violence. By this logic of ethical thinking, the producers and distributors could justify their behavior because they did not know the victims of their products.
The promotion of social trust has thus become an urgent issue in contemporary Chinese society as it has rapidly become more open, modern, and highly mobile. It is puzzling that even though the market economy has developed quickly, social trust has declined. A Chinese sociologist describes the six kinds of distrust prevailing in contemporary China that contribute to the crisis of social trust: namely, distrust of the market due to faulty goods and bad service, distrust of service providers and strangers, distrust of friends and even relatives, distrust of law enforcement officers, distrust of the law and legal institutions, and distrust of basic moral values (Peng 2003: 292-295). The widespread production and distribution of fake and contaminated foods, as indicated earlier, has played an especially vicious role in spreading further distrust in strangers and social institutions.
The pursuit of individual interests and profit-making are the direct driving force behind the production and distribution of fake and faulty goods. Particularly noteworthy is the moral justification of pursuing one's self-interest at the expense of others. In the mid-1980s, a journalist once confronted the head of a township government by asking whether he knew that the production of fake and faulty goods was illegal and immoral. Pointing to the rows of new houses behind him, the government official proudly answered without hesitation: "I think that the highest morality under heaven is to let my poor hometown become rich" (see Wu 2007: 149). This utilitarian and self-centered logic of moral reasoning fits well with the party-state's strategy of prioritizing economic growth, the national obsession with modernity, and the pragmatic measurement of truth and good, which have dominated Chinese thinking-official and unofficial alike-since the late 1970s. At a deeper level, this cadre's utilitarian statement that shrugs off the basic ethical responsibility-not to purposely hurt other people-with the priority of economic growth reflects the dangers accompanied by the shift from a collective ethics of responsibility and self-sacrifice to an individual ethics of rights and self-realization: that is, who will be the moral authority and where is the social sanctioning system after faith in the truth is replaced by a sense of the truth?
Under the ethics of responsibilities, there is an external moral authority that demands obedience, making people fulfill their responsibilities even sometimes at their own expense. In many developed countries in the West, this omnipotent authority was God and, after the secularization movement, appeared under the guise of the nation-state, society, and so forth, with religion continuing to exert an important influence. In the Chinese context, before the revolution it was Heaven, the family, and community power and thereafter it was Chairman Mao and Communist morality. In either case, an external and absolute authority no longer existed after the shift from an ethics of responsibility to an ethics of rights. In the moral universe of a highly mobile society of strangers, the sole true master of the individual is no one but the individual herself. Yet, the independent and self-serving individual is more vulnerable than ever to encroachment and aggression by other equally self-serving individuals and thus must seek protection from social institutions. Modern social institutions only protect individuals well when social trust, rule of law, checks and balances of power, and freedom of speech are well developed. This is the paradox of institutionalized individualism and the individualization of society that has become a global trend in the contemporary world (see Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 2002; Lipovetsky 2005).
Unfortunately, the individual in contemporary China cannot count on social institutions for the much-needed protection in a society of increasing risk. As revealed in almost all the cases of fake and faulty goods (including unsafe construction), the institutions and experts who were responsible for quality control did not perform their basic duties; rather, in many cases they also became involved or actively participated in the illegal and immoral practices. In the 2008 case of contaminated milk products, it is outrageous that the government officially assured that the milk products provided for the Olympics and Paralympics were not contaminated, indicating the addition of melamine was indeed a deliberate act under effective control in the production and distribution processes. It has also been reported that the local government was informed of the health issues caused by the tainted milk products in early August; yet, to insure the success of the Beijing Olympics, the local government withheld the information for a month. During this time, tons of contaminated baby formula were distributed and sold to consumers nationwide.
I would like to reiterate that as far as the factual side of the moral decline is concerned, unethical or immoral acts that are carried out in a collective mode or structured in institutional ways are much more damaging to the society as a whole. The large-scale production and distribution of fake and faulty goods is only one of the major problems that pose real threats to China's moral landscape. The widespread corruption among power holders, which has developed over the years from individual corruption to collective and institutionalized corruption (see, e.g., Gong 2006), constitutes yet another major problem in the changing moral landscape, an important issue in its own right. To address these problems, freedom of speech and independence of the judiciary seem to be necessary preconditions. Yet, the slow progress in political reform shows that China still has a long way to go to achieve these basic conditions. In this sense, we may say that the current moral crisis in China is actually also a political crisis, and the former cannot be resolved without successful political reforms.
The Emerging New Ethics and Moral Practices
To obtain a complete picture of the changing moral landscape, one should not overlook the bright side that includes both the preservation of conventional ethics and the emergence of new ethics in social practice. For example, anthropologist Ellen Oxfeld (2004) cites countless examples of how residents in a south China village remember and remunerate the gifts and help that they previously received, considering them as both social and moral debts. The memory and the reciprocal acts play an equally important role in maintaining a social conscience, despite the impact of market instrumentality. William Jankowiak reveals the positive moral changes in urban settings, such as the increasing occupational prestige of lawyers because they are perceived as pursuing justice for other people in the form of rights assertion, the growing individual contributions in charity work and giving, and the rise of a broad sense of a shared community in what he calls "ethical nationalism" (2004).
Although both are important for our understanding of the moral world in Chinese people's everyday life, the moral changes presented by Jankowiak deserve special attention because these changes occurred in the much volatile context of urban life and in most cases among strangers. Social interactions among acquaintances in a village setting are more likely bound by the conventional ethics of responsibility even under the conditions of the market economy, but the preservation of the old ethics does not necessarily equip the villagers with the appropriate ethics for dealing with strangers. As shown by numerous cases, the production of fake and faulty goods, including contaminated foods, has been mostly concentrated in rural areas and many villagers have willingly and actively participated in the production process. As noted, they tend to justify their behavior in terms of the particularistic morality that treats acquaintances and strangers differently from family members.
In contrast, the emerging trend of philanthropy and charity work in the urban areas represents a new ethic: the generalized notion of compassion and caring that applies equally to all. An exemplary individual is the pop singer Cong Fei. Like many rural youth, Cong left home to pursue his dreams in the city of Shenzhen, but he quickly became penniless. A friend helped Cong by giving him six hundred yuan to sign up for a pop-singing contest; after wining the contest, Cong became a professional singer and began to pay back society in his own way. From 1992 to 2002, the year he died, Cong had donated a major portion of his income for the education of 178 students from poor rural families who otherwise would have had to drop out of school, and he pledged to support these students from primary school all the way through college.
Cong's case deserves special attention for two reasons. First, as a local pop singer who never gained much fame and lived only on unreliable sources of income from his performances, Cong was not at all a rich person. His devotion to charity shows that ordinary people can be part of the newly emerging trend of individual philanthropy. Second, as an individual philanthropist without any background in government or any business connections, Cong was also vulnerable to social pressures, the influence of the media, and interference from the government. Shortly after his altruism was reported in the media, the local government made Cong into a Lei Feng-type model citizen who selflessly works for the people. (Lei Feng was one of the most prominent idealizations of a selfless Communist in the era of radical Maoism. His story was embellished and used for motivational purposes.) The government frequently called upon Cong for exemplary donations when it needed to raise funds from the society. In return, Cong received various government certificates of recognition and honors, along with media coverage. Under pressure from these official and media expectations, Cong soon had no choice but to donate even more of his limited income, and by the time of his death from cancer in 2002, Cong had practically no property to leave to his wife. It was reported that, in his last hours, Cong described his life as a journey climbing up a ladder as high as heaven. "In the beginning I helped a few poor students out of a strong personal feeling of connectedness because I had earlier been in their situation. But once I received so much official recognition, I had more responsibilities and when I ran out of money, I felt crushed by the responsibilities. The ladder was just too high for me to climb."
China has a long history of private charities that can be traced back to the Han dynasty (202 BCE-220 CE); by the end of nineteenth century, both the number and scale of private charities exceeded the official relief agencies of the imperial state. Although the Chinese charity tradition was also generally limited within the boundaries of kinship and local territory, goods and money were donated to address local needs such as building roads and bridges, constructing schools and hospitals, or for relief efforts during years of famine. It was rare for strangers in remote places to benefit from localized charities, and it was also rare for long-range goals promoting social change to be pursued.
The traditional philanthropy came to an end after 1949 as the party-state sought to monopolize the distribution of all resources in society. In the official discourse, private charities were viewed as the tools of the feudal and imperialist oppressors to deceive and beguile the Chinese people and thus they had to be eliminated. In practice, all private philanthropic organizations were either shut down or taken over by the government. The state was to take care of all of the needs of the people, and attempts to make donations were condemned as showing off individual wealth for ulterior motives.
Charity work was gradually rehabilitated in the 1980s and 1990s when the government realized its own limits in addressing all the new needs that the market economy created. The change started with government-sponsored foundations such as the China Red Cross Society, the China Youth Development Foundation, and the China Charity Foundation. Some successful projects, such as the Hope Project by the China Youth Development Foundation that focuses on improving education in China's poorest regions, demonstrated the importance of charities to the party-state, and, little by little, private philanthropy began to reemerge in China.
Since the late 1990s, an increasing number of private entrepreneurs have set up their own charitable organizations or have made donations to NGOs working for philanthropic causes, such as public health, education, and poverty relief. This new development attracted the attention of Rupert Hoogewerf, the founder of the monthly magazine the Hurun Report, which is best known for its annual "China's Rich List." In 2004, Hoogewerf made the first "Hurun Philanthropy List," featuring the top fifty most generous individuals in China who had donated millions of dollars in the previous year; the annual list has continued and since 2006 it has been expanded to include the top one hundred philanthropists.
Another development has been individual donations from ordinary citizens. These first appeared in 1998 when individual donations (as opposed to corporate donations that often include entrepreneur donations) were made by Chinese citizens who responded enthusiastically to the call to help the victims of the catastrophic floods that year. This new philanthropic spirit and practice among ordinary folk reached a high in 2008 in the nationwide relief efforts after the massive earthquake in Sichuan province. Within the first month, the amount of social donations, that is, donations from the private sector and individual citizens, reached a record high of more than eighty million dollars. In between these two events, numerous individuals made donations to various other charity projects, such as helping leukemia patients receive much-needed medical treatment or supporting students from poor regions to continue their education. A common feature of all these charitable donations from ordinary citizens is that they are made to help strangers instead of helping someone in one's kinship group or hometown. In this sense, a true spirit of philanthropy has sprouted in China during the postreform era.
Equally important is the more individualized trend in philanthropic developments. For years the Chinese government kept a tight hand over charity development and used its political power to reinforce its monopoly control. For example, the city government of Weihai in Shandong Province launched a charity month, asking public servants and state-owned enterprise employees to contribute to various government-sponsored charitable projects. Because the amount donated was used to judge the political performance and work achievements of the leadership of the organizations, the call for charitable donations turned out to be a forced collection of money from individuals. Such coerced donations, the outdated official discourse of collective responsibility, and the mismanagement of funds are common problems associated with the government-sponsored charity campaigns and projects. These have discouraged Chinese individuals from philanthropic practices, or at least those run by government agencies. Thus, unlike in 1998 when individuals donated only to government-sponsored foundations, in 2008 most individuals preferred to make donations to Hong Kong charities or to give directly to the quake victims, and many gave as individuals in addition to giving at the office as government employees. A clerk with the Beijing special armed police said: "I wanted to separate the collective action from the individual action." He donated 120 yuan at his office and then six hundred yuan to a private foundation in his daughter's name. Mr. Zhao, the owner of a technology company, stated clearly: "I want to show that it's me who's donating. It's not connected to anybody else. I am donating in my own name" (Fan 2008).
These people's attempts to separate their spontaneous donations as individual acts from the required donations by the government clearly indicate the emergence of a new kind of ethics, that is, a generalized notion of compassion and charity that derives from individual choice and that is applied to unrelated individuals outside of one's own circle of acquaintances or local world. This effort at individualized charity also resists the official control of the old collective ethics of responsibility, or the "heavenly ladder" of selfless sacrifice that Cong Fei was forced to climb by the local government; consequently, a new foundation for private charity and philanthropy has been built whereby an optional individual ethics of rights and self-realization motivates individuals to give and to help. That is to say, pity for those in distress, compassion for their struggles, and responsibility for doing something to help are emotional and meaning-centered realities of individuals (not surprisingly, this resurgence of philanthropy at times relates to the resurgence of religious organizations).
A more radical example in this connection is Han Han, an independent-minded writer and car racer who became a national idol among the youth because of his highly individualistic behavior, including dropping out of high school to protest the examination system. Han Han openly doubted the capacity of the government-sponsored charitable foundations to properly manage public donations and stated on his personal blog that he would not make any donations to government foundations. But he was among the first to volunteer in the quake region to help find survivors.
This new individual-centered discourse of ethics can also be found among those rich whose names appear on the Hurun Philanthropic List. For example, Chen Guangbiao, who ranked number four on the 2008 list by donating 130 million yuan in 2007, is well known for seeking personal pleasure and for his sense of satisfaction from his philanthropic activities. Interestingly, Chen Guangbiao also took a cowboy approach to participate in the quake relief. In addition to making donations, Chen led a team of more than one hundred employees from his company driving sixty bulldozers over one thousand miles nonstop to arrive at the quake zone before the army or any government-organized relief team (Xinhua News Agency 2008). Volunteerism is another highlight of the new ethics that suddenly appeared in China during the postquake relief efforts in 2008. It was estimated that by early July 2008 more than two hundred and fifty thousand volunteers had gone to Sichuan at their own expense and entirely of their own free will, the majority of whom were young people born in the 1980s. When asked why, many of them responded that they were moved by the suffering of the victims and thus they wanted to offer help, with a number of them specifically pointing out that helping others makes their personal lives more meaningful (Cha 2008). Such compassion toward strangers does not exist in traditional on-the-ground, locality-centered Chinese morality, even though it is part of institutionalized Buddhism. To a certain extent, it resembles the teachings of the Good Samaritan parable in the Bible: humanity's bonds in brotherhood should transcend geographical, racial, economic, and social boundaries. The altruistic behavior of these young volunteers was widely regarded as a pleasant surprise in Chinese society because most of the volunteers were singletons who are also widely known to be self-indulgent, self-centered, and irresponsible. It was difficult to make the link between the altruism and individualism of these youth.
Like private philanthropy, volunteerism also went through a long and winding process to reach this point in 2008. After the 1949 revolution, the party-state incorporated not only charity agencies but also all volunteer activities into its organizational framework, mostly through the work-unit system and other organizations such as the Communist Youth League. During the Mao era, citizens were mobilized to contribute to socialism through various forms of unpaid labor, known as yiwu laodong in Chinese, and there was a stigma to the term volunteerism due to its close association with church organizations such as the YMCA before the 1949 revolution. In the late 1980s, the government began to promote volunteerism and established a national Volunteers' Association, which, not surprisingly, is affiliated with the Communist Youth League.
The state sponsorship and collective nature of the association supports the conventional notion that volunteer activities must be organized by the government in one way or another. In a detailed ethnography of a group of young volunteers in a southern city, Rolandsen (2008) discovers that the motivations for engaging in volunteer work among the youth are highly individualistic, varying from efforts to expand one's social network, search for a meaningful life in a different domain, or train oneself with leadership skills to more opportunistic concerns such as the desire to obtain party membership. Yet they all must pursue their goals through the leadership and organization of the Volunteers' Association, which, in turn, has close links with the party-state apparatus. As a result, the young volunteers must go to study sessions, carry out party-state propaganda programs in their volunteer work, and organize activities on special days designated by the party-state apparatus, all of which constitute "a sign of performance for the state's agenda," as Rolandsen puts it.
For Chinese citizens, the first known act of volunteerism purely by individuals occurred in January 2008. After a heavy snowstorm paralyzed communications, transportation, and everyday life in south China, thirteen villagers from Tangshan rented a small bus and drove to Hunan Province where they stayed for weeks helping the local people. When asked about their motivations, the villagers simply replied that they all were child survivors of the 1976 Tangshan earthquake and had grown up hearing numerous stories about how people from other places had helped Tangshan after the quake. So they were motivated to reciprocate the help they had received earlier. Their story was broadcast on CCTV and in other official media, which for the first time showed Chinese citizens that volunteer work can be undertaken without the leadership and organization of the party or government. Ironically, the thirteen villager volunteers were later recognized and promoted by the local government as selfless heroes and were referred to as living Lei Feng models. On various occasions, they were invited to lecture on their values of selflessness and responsibility, and they even announced that they would form a permanent group of peasant volunteers. Like the pop singer Cong Fei, these villagers could not resist the government's efforts to reincorporate them into the framework of collective responsibility, thus they eventually abandoned the new volunteerism that they had pioneered in early 2008. Nevertheless, their original actions had a far-reaching impact on Chinese society and the official recognition also provided a sense of political safety. It is in this context that the wave of volunteerism surged after the earthquake in May 2008, which also changed the moral landscape of China.
The list of new ethics and moral practices is long when we turn our attention to gradual and nondramatic changes in everyday life among ordinary people. The increasing awareness of environmentalism, animal protection, changing attitudes toward the handicapped and physically disabled, compassion and assistance toward disadvantaged groups, and the values of tolerance, choice, and diversity are all positive changes that have occurred in the post-Mao reform era. It is impossible to examine them all in this chapter; suffice it to point out that like the perceived and actual negative changes, they are also part of the changing moral landscape.
In conclusion, the prolonged public perception of a moral decline or crisis is by no means a mirage or ungrounded misunderstanding of social changes. However, to what extent and in what ways this perception of moral crisis reflects the changing social reality needs to be spelled out by well-grounded empirical research. As an initial effort, I have examined the important changes in both ethical discourse and moral practice, emphasizing that the ethical shift from a collective system of responsibility and self-sacrifice to an individualistic system of rights and development is the key to better understand the changing moral landscape in post-Mao China.
Scholars disagree about how to evaluate the moral changes during the reform era, mostly because their respective studies focus on particular domains of social life or on a given group of people in a given time period. For example, focusing on value changes in moral discourse, Ci Jiwei and Wang Xiaoying emphasize the dissolution of the ethics of responsibility and the decline of collective values, while overlooking the rise of a new ethics of individual rights and freedom (Ci 1994; Wang 2002). In contrast, to highlight the development of a new rights morality in villagers' resistance struggles against real-estate developers and predatory local governments, Hok Bun Ku neglects the accompanying decline of a morality of responsibility (2003). In my own previous research, I paid more attention to the changing moral landscape in the domain of private life while rarely discussing parallel changes in public life (Yan 2003). As indicated earlier, both Oxfeld (2004) and Jankowiak (2004) focus on the bright side and argue for either the preservation of traditional ethics or the development of a new ethics. Yet, all these positive changes have occurred simultaneously and against the same background of a crisis of social trust (see Peng 2003).
How the transitional society at large shapes morality is also under debate. According to Liu Xin, in the 1990s "the lack of a moral economy in communal life in conjunction with the emergence of a moral space at large became a crucial condition of existence in post-reform rural China" (2000: 183). In this uncertain and highly contested moral landscape a person's character and the established sense of self could be easily challenged, changed, and twisted, leading to a discontinuity of the personhood or the otherness of the self as Liu put it (2002). Backed by longitudinal survey data and participant observations in the same city since the early 1980s, Jankowiak emphasizes the positive development of a "moral space at large" (in Liu's terms) and attributes the expansion of this new moral horizon mainly to the market economy and the expanded scope of social interactions (2004: 205). Concurring with these insightful arguments, I would add that the construction or expansion of this new moral space is likely multilayered, multidirectional, and with multiple consequences and meanings for different groups of people in China; but, at the same time, it has shown the tendency to be increasingly individualized. The shift toward a more individualistic ethical system and the individualization of the new moral space, in my mind, result directly from the ongoing process of the individualization of Chinese society itself.
As I argue elsewhere (Yan 2003, 2009b, 2010), the rise of the individual constitutes the most fundamental change in Chinese society. A central feature of post-Mao reform has been a process whereby the state first was forced and then took the initiative to make the Chinese individual more self-reliant, self-driven, and more competitive in a market economy. The direct result is the rise of the enterprising self and the individualization of society (see also the introduction of this volume). To cope with the challenges brought about by the market reforms and globalization, certain institutional reforms have been made to accommodate the rise of the individual, including the tolerance of the shift toward a more individualistic, pluralistic ethics and the encouragement of consumerism in the domain of ideology. Yet, both the rise of the individual and the individualization of society can be regarded as part of China's pressured and ever more rushed quest for modernity since the mid-nineteenth century, in which the individual has always been viewed as an instrument to a greater end, that is, the building of a strong, wealthy, and modern state. The call for the submission of the small self (the interest of the individual) to the great self (the interest of the nation-state) has been centrally influential in the ethical discourse on the self, morality, and meaning of life from the mid-nineteenth century to the present, albeit under different ideological and political disguises (Yan 2010). As a result, the two crucial social conditions for the individualization of society in the West (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 2002), namely, a deeply rooted culture of democracy that promotes equality and liberal individualism and a welfare state that protects and supports the individuals, are missing in the Chinese process of individualization. The individual as the end, not the means to an end, still is an alien idea to the Chinese mind, and individualism has been understood merely as a way to claim individual rights and pursue personal interest. Overall, it is the party-state that actively manages the process of individualization and keeps the individual and the society under its shadow (Yan 2009b, 2010). Consequently, the individual turn of ethical discourse and moral practice has taken a rather different path and brought out quite a few new challenges in China.
First, the shift toward an individualistic ethics of rights and self-development stands in direct opposition to the outdated official ethics that calls for the complete submission of the individual to the party-state. It is difficult for the party-state to prescribe a different ethics without making serious political reforms; yet, in reality most people act in accordance with the newly emerged individualistic ethics. The disjunction between official and private ethics has resulted in a widespread trend toward cynicism, nihilism, and division of the moral self (Ci 1994; Wang 2002; see also the "divided self" discussions in the introduction and chapter 8 of this book).
Second, cynicism and nihilism, together with the weak development of social autonomy, prevent the development of public trust, one of the key elements for a healthy modern society (Giddens 1990: 79-124). Given that China is rapidly becoming a highly mobile and urbanized society where social interactions among strangers have replaced the in-group interactions among relatives and friends, how to build strong public trust stands out as an urgent and critical issue. Yet, the widespread immoral behaviors (including those illustrated earlier) and the continuing popularity of guanxi networks reveal only the importance of personal trust (see also Peng 2003). Moreover, the lack of public trust in post-Mao China has shown the alarming tendency to generate a disbelief in the good and in altruism, as shown in my research on the extortion of Good Samaritans and Jing Jun's insightful observation of the association between the government's doubts about altruism and the commercialization of blood donation (see his chapter in this volume).
Third, while most Chinese individuals have experienced an improvement in their living standard, all are aware of how rich some individuals have become. The flow of wealth is conspicuously visible among both individuals and government agencies, as is the widening disparity between rich and poor. How to deal with the sudden surge of wealth in particular and the irresistible trend of materialism in general posts another moral challenge to the Chinese individual and society. To a certain extent, China might be in a similar situation to what the Dutch individual and society faced in the seventeenth century: a challenge to come to terms with unprecedented wealth and to moralize materialism (see Schama 1987). Yet, unlike the Dutch case, most Chinese individuals are not equipped with a deeply rooted religion that emphasizes transcendent values. Nor do they reside in a world like modern Europe where the increasingly liberal context of political and moral philosophy has enabled the individual to enrich herself in both material and spiritual ways. Instead, the brutal attack on traditional culture, the collapse of Maoist morality, and the party-state's continuing suspicion about the autonomy of the individual and the independence of society seriously limit the possible sources by which the individual can reconstruct a new moral self to face today's unprecedented wealth and materialism. The increase of wealth per se cannot solve this moral issue; instead, it could and indeed has intensified the contradiction between the spiritual and the material and led to an increased sense of dissatisfaction and unhappiness amidst a booming economy (Brockmann et al. 2009).
The last challenge is the entanglement of old and new ethics, of collective and individualistic values, and of responsibility-centered and rights-centered moral practices in contemporary Chinese social life. Such an ethical entanglement actually derives from the entanglement of social conditions in China's quest for modernity. Chinese individuals have been allowed, and in some cases also pushed, by the party-state to pursue some goals in personal life that define industrial modernity in Europe and North America, such as the quest for a comfortable material life, accumulating wealth, searching for happiness, and seeking freedom and choice in private life. At the same time they also find themselves living and working in a postmodern environment where a fluid labour market, flexible employment, increasing personal risks and isolation, a culture of intimacy and self-expression, and a greater emphasis on individuality and self-reliance are created by the force of globalization. All of these things, we must not forget, have occurred in the context of the unchanging political authoritarianism of the Chinese party-state. In other words, the post-Mao society simultaneously demonstrates premodern, modern, and postmodern conditions, as does the changing moral landscape in both ethical discourse and moral practice. This double entanglement forces the Chinese individual into situations of difficult-and sometimes self-contradictory-moral reasoning and divided actions, which further animate the complexity of the changing moral landscape.
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