The individual and the state in China: being a graduate village official in rural southwest China

  • Yuecheng Ding

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    The topic of this research is the state and the individual. I conducted one year’s fieldwork by working as a graduate village official in a local government office in southwest rural China, which enabled me to observe at close range the workings of political power and official administration. After one year’s in-depth exploration, my materials include the following: state propaganda publications, observations of conversations among officials, interactions between subordinates and superiors, economic administrative processes in the development, local residents’ petitions to the office, and the case of Bo Xilai of CCP politburo. These data have helped me think through the meaning of the workings of the state, power and bureaucracy, social interactions, the operation of Guanxi, the role of economic agencies, and Chinese individual politics.

    My particular interest is individual politics. This politics differentiates itself from state politics to emphasize personal motivations and the freedoms of current individualization. Ideally, politics, economics and culture should work in harmony and map the proper meanings of modernization into daily life. However, in China, the stability of society lacks cohesiveness as a result of the overbearing power of the state. Hence, my thesis considers how individuals conduct themselves in the collective workplace during their interactions with others. The individual politics underpins the ethnographic understandings of the field and constructed on-and-off stages of official behaviours in front of both the collective state and personal interests.

    Theoretically, my study is contextualised within political anthropology and the broader developments in China. Different from other Chinese studies on structure or culture, my examination and analysis of the political authority of meanings will be focused on individual interactions. When modem economic motivations confront the ethical and interventionist roles of the state, individual behaviours in this ethnographic research reveal a sense of insecurity on a social scale. This insecure consciousness starts from a meaning vacuum to define individuals' ordinary life economically.
    Date of AwardJul 2015
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Queen's University Belfast
    SupervisorLisette Josephides (Supervisor) & John Knight (Supervisor)

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