Thursday 26 May
The relational person and moralized hierarchy in Chinese culture
Prof Yunxiang Yan (University of California, Los Angeles)
(5.00-6.30pm, Keynes’ Hall, King’s College, Cambridge CB2 1ST)
Built upon Chinese anthropologist Fei Xiaotong’s concept of chaxugeju—his ideal-type characterization of Chinese social structure, this lecture aims to unpack and understand the entanglement of hierarchy and mutuality, morality and instrumentality, sociality and egoism, and the personal and collective in both the cultural construction of personhood and social practices of guanxi in China. Focusing on the moralization of hierarchy and socialization of egotism, this lecture also tries to compare the Chinese case with that of South Asia and Pacific Islands in light of the great works of Louis Dumont and Marilyn Strathern and highlights the more radical differences between the relational person and moralized hierarchy in these three non-Western cases on one hand and the indivisible individual and ideologicalized equality in Western individualism on the other hand. It concludes that although the relational person and moralized hierarchy seem to represent the “normal” or “natural” pattern of individual-society relationships in most societies and the longer part of human history, the indivisible individual and ideologicalized equality, a historical product of the modern West, is quickly gaining global influence (if not dominance) and thus creates intriguing ethical tensions in social life in China, and arguably many parts of the contemporary world as well.