Public Lecture

The Art of “Doing Good” in Contemporary China: New Material Powers

Asia/Hong_KongThe Art of “Doing Good” in Contemporary China: New Material Powers
    Asia/Hong_KongThe Art of “Doing Good” in Contemporary China: New Material Powers


      The Art of “Doing Good” in Contemporary China: New Material Powers


      Gonçalo D. Santos (Senior Research Fellow, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)


      December 7, 2012


      4:00 pm


      CPD-LG.17, Central Podium Levels, Centennial Campus, The University of Hong Kong (Map)




      (Tel) (852) 3917-5772


      Post-reform China has witnessed a dramatic resurgence of institutionalized practices of charity and philanthropy that went hand in hand with the development of a new rhetoric about the importance of “doing good”, the urgency of helping others and saving lives, the responsibility to give a contribution to society. In the last two decades, this rhetoric has gradually become a widely accepted currency for social exchanges of various kinds, facilitating cooperation across the boundaries of class, kinship, and region. In this paper, I explore the power of this new cultural idiom ethnographically with material collected through long-term fieldwork in Northern Guangdong province since the late 1990s. My account draws particular attention to the activities of recently established NGOs like Guangdong Lions Club in poverty-stricken rural areas, joining recent efforts in anthropology and other human sciences to emphasize the increasingly central role played by ethical regimes of charitable giving in the formation of contemporary subjects and in the cultural legitimation of mounting regional and global inequalities. Theoretically, the paper seeks to engage in interdisciplinary exchanges with the field of STS proposing an assemblage-focused approach to charitable transactions. I argue that the translocal performance of charitable deeds — by NGOs and similar organizations — requires the mobilization of diverse social and symbolic resources, and the usage of various kinds of materials, skills, and instruments, resulting in the formation of more or less transient assemblages or actor networks. Focusing on the construction of these highly heterogeneous assemblages constitutes a rich field for exploring the multiple levels at which shared values and ethical practices emerge and are negotiated between the various actors involved including givers and receivers, sponsors and sponsored.

      About the Speaker

      Gonçalo D. Santos, a Senior Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle (Saale), Gonçalo Santos is the author of several publications on contemporary China and the co-editor of the volume Chinese Kinship (Routledge 2009). His research interests include kinship and intimacy; development and capitalist transformations; ethics and popular religion. He is also interested in the field of Science and Technology Studies. His current research focuses on charitable deeds and technologies of virtuous action in South China.