Social egoism and individualism: Surprises and questions for a Western anthropologist of China – reading Professor Fei Xiaotong’s contrast between China and the West

Social egoism and individualism: Surprises and questions for a Western anthropologist of China – reading Professor Fei Xiaotong’s contrast between China and the West

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Journal of China in Comparative Perspective > Vol.1 > Issue 1 > Page 128-145

Social egoism and individualism: Surprises and questions for a Western anthropologist of China – reading Professor Fei Xiaotong’s  contrast between China and the West

Stephan Feuchtwang

Journal of China in Comparative Perspective (JCCP) is the only peer-reviewed academic dual language journal for social scientific, humanities and comparative studies of China in the world, published biannually in June and December in print and electronic versions from 2015 by the Global China Press. Electronic articles can be accessed online from the JCCP website after you have subscribed to the journal. For institutions, we will need your IP address/es, either on-campus, off-campus or both.

JCCP DOI https://doi.org/10.24103/JCCP Crossref

DOI http://doi.org/10.24103/JCCP.2015.1.8

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Abstract

This paper comments on the cultural comparisons between China and the West made in Fei Xiaotong’s book, From the Soil: The Foundations of Chinese Society, and asserts the important significance of Fei’s concept of “differential mode of association” in Chinese sociological and anthropological studies as well as in any attempt at China–West cultural comparisons. On the basis of that, the author revises the contrast between egoism and individualism by pointing out that, as the importance of economic relations is growing rapidly and extensively, a new differential mode of association is evolving to include trust between neighbours, friends and families, and the pursuit of common interests. It is also broadening into a way of conducting business transactions and political coalitions. The author then goes on to raise the question of how rural China, with social egoism as its defining character, should build up the idea of equal rights and individualism as required by the market economy in its transformational period.

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Abstract: This paper comments on the cultural comparisons between China and the West made in Fei Xiaotong’s book, From the Soil: The Foundations of Chinese Society, and asserts the important significance of Fei’s concept of “differential mode of association” in Chinese sociological and anthropological studies as well as in any attempt at China–West cultural comparisons. On the basis of that, the author revises the contrast between egoism and individualism by pointing out that, as the importance of economic relations is growing rapidly and extensively, a new differential mode of association is evolving to include trust between neighbours, friends and families, and the pursuit of common interests. It is also broadening into a way of conducting business transactions and political coalitions. The author then goes on to raise the question of how rural China, with social egoism as its defining character, should build up the idea of equal rights and individualism as required by the market economy in its transformational period.

Keywords: social egoism, individualism, chaxugeju, tuantigeju, anthropology of China, emotional family in China

Stephan Feuchtwang 王斯福 is an Emeritus Professor of the Department of Anthropology, and founding director of the China in Comparative Perspective Network (CCPN), London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He was President of the British Association for Chinese Studies (BACS).  Based on his long term studies on popular religion and politics in mainland China and Taiwan he published work on charisma, place, temples and festivals, and civil society. He has been engaging comparative studies exploring the recognition of catastrophic loss, and civilisations and empires. He is author of After the Event: The Transmission of Grievous Loss in Germany, China and Taiwan (2011), and Popular Religion in China: The Imperial Metaphor (2001).

Cite this article

Stephan Feuchtwang
Social egoism and individualism: Surprises and questions for a Western anthropologist of China – reading Professor Fei Xiaotong’s  contrast between China and the West
Journal of China in Comparative Perspective
Vol.1 Issue 1. 2015, p128-145
DOI: http://doi.org/10.24103/JCCP.2015.1.8
Crossref

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