In spite of the intense preoccupation with individual and self in modern Western thought, the social sciences have tended to focus on groups and collectives and downplay the individual. This implicit view has also coloured the study of social life in China where both Confucian ethics and Communist policies have shaped collective structures with little room for individual agency and choice. What is actually happening, however, is a growing individualization of China - not only changing perceptions of the individual but also rising expectations for individual freedom, choice and individuality. The individual has also become a basic social category in China, and a development has begun that permeates all areas of social, economic and political life. How this process evolves in a state and society lacking two of the defining characteristics of European individualization - a culturally embedded democracy and a welfare system - is one of the questions that the volume explores. A strength of this volume is that its authors succeed in depicting the individualization process in conceptually acute and empirically sensitive terms, and as something with its own distinctively Chinese profile.
That makes this book a 'must read' for all those wanting to understand present-day Chinese society, with all of its ambivalences, contingencies and contradictions.
Mette Halskov Hansen is Professor of China Studies at the University of Oslo. She has published widely in the fields of minority education, Han migration to minority areas, and Chinese rural society. Rune Svarverud is Professor of Chinese at the University of Oslo. His main fields of interest are the intellectual history of China, Sino-Western relations and East-West intellectual transfers.