Society for East Asian Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
In recent years, Chinese middle classes poured their savings into peer-to-peer (P2P) lending platforms that promise high investment returns. These platforms, operating online and offline, connects individual borrowers with individual lenders. Since 2011, under the banners of “inclusive finance”, China’s P2P industry has seen its dramatic rise and fall. During its peak time in 2015, there were more than 3500 platforms. But the number dropped to 1500 by 2018 due to massive “blow-ups” (baolei) in the past years. In 2018, 133 platforms “blew up” within 48 days, causing the evaporation of over 300 billion Yuan, the life savings of millions of Chinese. Some “blow-ups” were caused by mismanagement of risks. But many more were suspected as intentionally set up “Ponzi schemes”. The lenders/investors who lost their life savings identify themselves as “financial refugees”. Many went on the long journey to claim back their money through individual and collective actions.
This long-term ethnography examines the P2P platforms as institutions that channel the anxiety, trust, dreams and disillusion among the Chinese. This presentation, based on part of the project, traces the online and offline journeys of “financial refugees” produced by the blow-up of a major P2P platform in 2019. It examines the complicated picture of their institutional identity and rights consciousness through their moral expressions of anxiety, desire, guilt, anger, hope/hopelessness and fear. Though voiced by individuals, these expressions are grounded in the multiple layers of collective and institutional forces.