Society for East Asian Anthropology
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
After Mao’s socialism brought China to one extreme, then Deng’s reform swung it in the opposite direction, the nation’s ideological climate is shifting once again. Xi Jinping has proposed the development of “new philanthropy” as one means to “resolve the contradictions of socialism with Chinese characteristics,” addressing the social inequality and environmental degradation that have accompanied the staggering growth of GDP over the past four decades. Concurrently, the broader geopolitical climate is undergoing shifts as well, and “new philanthropy” is a component of the Belt and Road Initiative that signifies China’s bid to be the next global superpower. Professionals who design and implement educational programs to fashion new philanthropic subjectivities, as well as nascent philanthropic subjects who enroll in these programs, are envisioning a prosperous, harmonious nation, and a world in which China takes the lead in solving global social and environmental problems. Drawing upon year-long ethnographic fieldwork at two such philanthropy education organizations, this paper examines how these interlocutors are dreaming the China Dream—how they interweave American best practices, Chinese philosophical traditions, and socialist values to reimagine a kind of philanthropy/cishan that stretches far beyond traditional charitable giving to encompass an entire way of life. The paper also charts the tensions and challenges experienced in actually changing economic behavior, e.g., shifting intergenerational transfer of wealth to include a charitable component, shifting consumption to be environmentally responsible, or shifting career tracks to prioritize social impact alongside financial success.