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Emptiness and Fullness: Ethnographies of Lack and Desire in Contemporary China

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Volume 2

Studies in Social Analysis

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Emptiness and Fullness

Ethnographies of Lack and Desire in Contemporary China

Edited by Susanne Bregnbæk and Mikkel Bunkenborg

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154 pages, 3 illus., bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-78533-580-8 25% OFF! $120.00/£85.00 $90.00/£63.75 Hb Published (July 2017)

eISBN 978-1-78533-581-5 eBook

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“…an impressive, if short, volume. Harking back to structuralist ethnography’s attention to semiotic detail, its case studies show the importance of comparative ethnography built on linguistic, conceptual, and methodological rigour. Each chapter provides a rich array of Chinese keywords that warrant further attention, particularly in terms of their social the oretical implications…[This volume] showcases the conceptual breadth and linguistic rigour of the anthropology of China coming out of Europe today, synthesizing much of the existing literature and connecting it to well-presented case studies.” • Anthropos


As critical voices question the quality, authenticity, and value of people, goods, and words in post-Mao China, accusations of emptiness render things open to new investments of meaning, substance, and value. Exploring the production of lack and desire through fine-grained ethnography, this volume examines how diagnoses of emptiness operate in a range of very different domains in contemporary China: In the ostensibly meritocratic exam system and the rhetoric of officials, in underground churches, housing bubbles, and nationalist fantasies, in bodies possessed by spirits and evaluations of jade, there is a pervasive concern with states of lack and emptiness and the contributions suggest that this play of emptiness and fullness is crucial to ongoing constructions of quality, value, and subjectivity in China.

Susanne Bregnbæk is assistant professor at University College Capital in Copenhagen, where she is working on socially vulnerable children and their families in Denmark.

Mikkel Bunkenborg is an associate professor in China Studies at the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen.

Subject: General Anthropology Political Economy Economic History
Area: Asia


List of Illustrations

Mikkel Bunkenborg and Susanne Bregnbæk

Chapter 1. China’s Examination Fever and the Fabrication of Fairness: “My Generation was Raised on Poison Milk”
Zachary M. Howlett

Chapter 2. Guanhua! Beijing Students, Authoritative Discourse, and the Ritual Production of Political Compliance
Anders Sybrandt Hansen

Chapter 3. Interior Spaces of Hope: Inner Selves, Intersubjectivity, and Agency among Chinese Christians in Beijing
Susanne Bregnbæk

Chapter 4. The Tower and The Tower: Excess and Vacancy in China’s Ghost Cities
Michael Alexander Ulfstjerne

Chapter 5. The Manchu in the Mirror: The Emptiness of Identity and the Fullness of Conspiracy Theory
Kevin Carrico

Chapter 6. Empty Diseases and Horror Vacui in Rural Hebei
Mikkel Bunkenborg

Chapter 7. The Potentials of Feicui: Indeterminacy and Determination in Human-Jade Interactions in South-West China
Henrik Kloppenborg Møller


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