NARRATIVES OF THE CHINESE ECONOMIC REFORM: Individual Pathways from Plan to Market

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This book is a collection of stories telling how seven Chinese individuals navigated their personal transitions during the Chinese state’s shift from a state-managed and state-owned, planned socialist economy to one primarily driven by market forces. Each author has selected a person s/he met in the course of fieldwork for larger projects. Each subject is a vibrant individual, whose choices and actions exhibit the energy, initiative, grit and nerve called for in confronting what was, for that person, the initially unfamiliar forces of the market and/or the changing face of the state in the wake of the market’s rebirth in China. These are people whose strivings have been both licit and illicit, as they reached out for recognition, riches, or just simple sustenance. There is a mixture of genders, locales, ethnicities, and occupations. No other book available illustrates China’s market transition through a focus on specific, real individuals as this one does. The target audience is students, scholars, and the general public.


“It is perhaps quite fitting that the narratives brought together in this volume focus on the stories of individuals. After all, one of the premises of China’s economic reforms is that the unleashing of market forces will produce a new type of subject, a risk-bearing individual 'responsible for his/her own profits and losses' whose productive energies can be developed through the pursuit of economic self-interest in a free market. However, the narratives presented here tell rather a different story: China’s economic reforms of the last quarter century are revealed to be a much more contingent process in which the twists and turns of policy have afforded unparalleled opportunities for wealth accumulation for a few, while dispossessing a vast majority of others. These stories repeatedly demonstrate the importance of social connections, timing, and prior formations of political and cultural capital as critical factors in determining one’s success or failure. Yet one’s inability to prosper is attributed to a failure to adapt to the harsh new 'realities' of market socialism ...” – (from the Foreword) Professor Ann Anagnost, University of Washington

“This work combines vivid ethnographic encounters with the conceptual questions on agency and on the nature of power in everyday maneuvers. The authors are accomplished scholars on contemporary China. From their respective disciplinary angles, they provide critical, self-reflexive readings of the human endeavors as they unfold in front of their eyes. The subjective experiences represented are diverse -- in gender, locale, ethnicity, and occupation. Yet the conceptual schema that unifies the volume is clear. The volume will set a standard for ethnographic studies that are informed by vigorous analytical explorations. I look forward to the timely publication of such a volume.” – Professor Helen Siu, Yale University

“This is an aspiring and timely book project, helping to narrate the ongoing social transformation of Chinese society from socialist system to market economy from a plurality of ordinary lives whose experience, narration and subjectivity are told and heard. The thickness and richness of the stories in this edited volume outshine many scholarly works in the area which only focus on macro and quantitative analysis with a broad stroke. Its contribution to the current scholarship further extends as it also acts out as a piloting project to attempt 'engaged biography' in which the authors of the seven stories are not only interested in illustrating the great transformation of China by construing individual narratives, but concerned and even engaged in the process of social change which the agents and authors encountered together. This kind of scholarship is still very rare in the field ...” – Professor Pun Ngai, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

“This collection of stories about individuals in China and their experiences of economic reform certainly deserves to be published. The stories are quite engaging and the edited volume will make a fine companion to the texts on China that provide macro-analyses. These stories, by contrast, bring the reforms alive. They show how individuals have struggled with the radical transformations that economic reform means for their lives. The stories show success as well as failure. They also range nicely among stories of urban workers, rural migrants, ethnic minority regions, major metropolises, small towns, men and women, young and old. The stories are all quite readable and therefore should provide accessible reading material for undergraduates in courses on China but also perhaps on transnational capitalism, as well as possibly courses on life history or oral history methods.” – Professor Lisa Rofel, University of California, Santa Cruz

"... The bottom-line question is: Can we have both cakes (i.e., the socialist and the capitalist) and eat them too? It is in this context that the editor pointedly raises precepts that will be of great interest to future researchers on China's post-socialist transformation ... For scholars who wish to learn more about the predicaments that China's transformation has inflicted on individuals, this book will definitely allow for new and valuable insights into this tortuous process." - Pacific Affairs, Summer 2006

“[This work] is an ambitious and successful attempt to reveal the ironies and dilemmas inherent in China’s ongoing marketization. The collection of individual narratives pays homage to the common humanity embodied in their struggle for survival or success and makes a valuable and much-needed counterpoint to a common belief in the unlimited benefits of fast economic growth. In short, the volume not only sheds light on the contradiction-ridden post-Mao political economy but also offers a new conceptual framework for looking at China’s shifting state-society relations in daily life. No serious student of contemporary China should ignore it.” – The China Journal

". . . provides a novel and valuable perspective upon the vast sweep of change in China's economy and society."Cal Clark, China Review International

Table of Contents

Foreword by Ann Anagnost
1. Refusing Success, Refusing “Voice”: The Other Story of Accumulation – Hairon Yan
2. Tales of a Migrant Renovator in Beijing – Lei Guang
3. The Story of Secretary Wang – Hero, Savior, Liar, Scoundrel – Tim Oakes
4. The True Story of Akheu – Janet C. Sturgeon
5. Through the Social Jungle: Mrs. Zhang and Work – Jean-Louis Rocca
6. The Life of a Former State Worker – Antoine Kernen
7. The Sad Story of Zheng Erji Who Landed in the City Through the Favors Reform-Era Policies Bestowed But Rewrote the Rules While Suffering Wrongs, Once There – Dorothy Solinger

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