In the last two decades, China has become a dramatically more urban society and hundreds of millions of people have moved residence in the process. Family and communal bonds have been broken in a country now known as "a society of acquaintances." There has been a resulting breakdown of civility and trust in contemporary China, and the new market economy doesn't offer any solutions.
This book investigates how the Chinese have coped with the condition of modernity in which strangers are routinely thrust together, testing the moral limits of a society known for the primacy of blood relations and familiarity. Haiyan Lee dismisses the easy answers claiming that this "moral crisis" is not merely smoke and mirrors conjured up by paternalistic, overwrought leaders, policy makers, and scholars, nor should it be simply chalked up to the topsy-turvy of a market economy on steroids. Rather, Lee argues that the perception of crisis is itself symptomatic of a deeper problem that has roots in both the Confucian tradition of kinship and the modern state management of stranger sociality.
This ambitious work is the first to investigate the figure of the stranger—foreigner, peasant migrant, bourgeois intellectual, class enemy, dangerous woman, animal—across literature, journal articles, film, television, and popular museum exhibits. Lee's aim is to show that hope lies with a robust civil society in which literature and the arts play a key role in sharpening the moral faculties and apprenticing readers in the art of living with strangers. In so doing, she make a historical, comparative, and theoretically informed contribution to the on-going conversation on China's "uncivil society."