The Otherness of Self

A Genealogy of Self in Contemporary China
Xin Liu
An exploration of the conflict between traditional Chinese ideology and modern Chinese business practice


The realities of the social life in China's business practices reveal an increasing divergence from the ideologies of the Chinese state. In this engaging work, Xin Liu examines the Asian economic crisis and, particularly, the rise of China as a major trading power in the region. Liu illuminates a history of conjuncture, including the effects of the Maoist revolution and the influence of transnational capital and capitalism.

The Otherness of Self, in addition to being an anthropological study of the development of so-called high-tech industries in (South) China, also explores the complex formation of capital in a developing new world of business practices. By tracing the birth and development of the Beihai Star Group, a high-tech company that achieved success despite a major national economic crisis, Xin Liu shows how a capitalist order emerged within a self-proclaimed socialist country.

Xin Liu is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Chair of the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. A researcher as well as a teacher, his interests include the condition of life in contemporary China and East Asia, and the effects of transnational capitalism in the transformation of East Asian societies. Liu's work has been honored by the British Council, the Japan Foundation, and, most recently, the University of California at Berkeley. Among his many other accomplishments, he is also the author of In One's Own Shadow: An Ethnographic Account of the Condition of Post-reform Rural China.

Praise / Awards

  • "After focusing on rural China in his first book, Liu now turns his perceptive eye on the post-reform condition in the urban area. Here, the socio-economy might indeed be described as immoral, particularly in the cavalier attitudes he reveals regarding corruption, sex, bribery, and all of the so-called traditions that most China anthropologists hold so dear about Chinese society: family, education, homeland, hierarchy, centrality of the state, and the importance of ritual and religion. There are many anthropologists who have written that these institutions constitute what makes China Chinese, and Liu has nicely shown how this generation can only find amusement in such practices or belief. For Liu's subjects, there is a third dimension: in the midst of a corrupt, rudderless society, a decimated past, and a delegitimated state government, how can people begin to relate to society outside the state? The existential dilemma of self and social is pervasive in China today, and Liu nicely teases apart the many strands entangling his three interwoven subjects. In a sense, the drama is much more about the Chinese self today than about the characters, and in this way Liu nicely accomplishes his goal of locating his writing in ethnographic space, but never making it local. From this finely crafted work, we learn much about contemporary China, but even more about the making of one's self."
    --Dru C. Gladney, Professor of Asian Studies and Anthropology, University of Hawai'i at Manoa
  • "The central questions explored in this study are provocative, which will no doubt stimulate further discussion on the nature of the post-Mao social and cultural exchange among China scholars.... The manuscript also demonstrates Liu's unusual ability to capture special telling moments and scenes in Beihai that nicely reveal the ironies, problems, and dilemmas inherent within China's urban development. It provides a valuable and much needed counterpoint to an overly optimistic view of China's economic development since Mao."
    --Li Zhang, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, University of California at Davis
  • "This is a bold effort to redefine anthropological theory while providing a new conceptual framework for understanding the significance of China's ongoing social transformation. In many ways it is breathtakingly original in its approach. I suspect its clarity, originality, and readability will appeal to a large audience interested in the theoretical as well as searching for a new framework in which to understand Chinese society. It will be a widely cited book."
    --William Jankowiak, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Nevada at Las Vegas
  • "Liu's extended analysis of the philosophy of narrative, self, and time provides a rich theoretical cradle for understanding his ethnographic findings. . . . Liu makes a valuable contribution by capturing the day-to-day cultural experience of market transition, especially the inherent controductions of self and temporal consciousness produced by urban reform. Liu lends a sensitive and sophisticated analytic ear to the ways in which people reflect on their lives and their futures. Together, Liu's method and conceptual framings are an innovated approach to the anthropology of capitalist development that captures both important continuities of experience across place and key points of divergence. It should be of compelling interest to scholars of globalization, postsocialiasm, and China, as well as practitioners of ethnography."
    --Contemporary Sociology

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Copyright © 2002, University of Michigan. All rights reserved. Posted June 2002.

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Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 240pp.
  • 1 map.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2002
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-06809-8

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  • $29.95 U.S.