I met a soldier today from the northern Shandong province, who had quit his 13-year army career to go and become a sociologist looking at divorce. He told me it was because the work in the army was hard and he had found it boring and repetitive. When asked what he had done as a soldier, all he could muster was “exercises.” He hadn’t had any opportunities to travel and had managed to rise a bit in the ranks, but not a huge amount – I couldn’t figure out the specifics of his rank, but he gave the impression of it being somewhat mid-range.
But what was fascinating was what he had decided to do instead. Having quit the army, he signed up to Renmin University (People’s University) in Beijing to do a PhD in sociology. His particular research was focused on divorces, and understanding how they work from the inside. His thesis project was focused on a particular couple who had divorced. He identified his subjects by hanging around a family court and watching a number of divorce proceedings. Having identified his ideal couple, he approached them separately. Of course, they initially refused to participate, but he treated them separately to dinner and was able to persuade them to become his subjects.
This was not entirely surprising as he was a charming chap, though I was impressed that he was able to persuade them to agree to undergo repeated interviews and then to also open up their network of family and friends to inquisition. From this, he was able to assemble the anatomy of their divorce and why it took place, and to learn some broader lessons about modern Chinese society. Unfortunately, he was not able to tell me much more about his findings than this, and when I pried he hemmed and hawed, leading me to suspect he had not quite finished.
Curious about divorce in China, I went online and discovered that in 2009 an official survey uncovered that one in five marriages in China ended in divorce. That figure is increasing, so research on the topic is clearly salient. There is ultimately nothing wrong with a former soldier deciding to do that research, even if it seems to be a somewhat dramatic life change. What the vignette captured, however, was how increasingly western China is becoming in many ways – different life options are still open to people at relatively advanced stages in their careers. Rather than a planned economy where everyone does the same, centrally-determined thing for life, there is now fluidity within the system. As their divorce rate catches up with the west, other features of society are also emulating western tendencies. The bigger question that remains unanswered, however, is whether this convergence is also taking place within the domestic and personal spheres.
18th April 2011 at 12:04pm
It is interesting to see how society is changing much quicker than the political system without this producing huge crisis in legitimacy. It looks to me that capitalism in all its forms does not necessarily lead to political freedom, but to freedom of consumption and ambition (thus producing fluidity in society) to a sufficient number of individuals to legitimate the system itself. (This till economy grows, which bring up two worries: sustainability on the long run , necessity of imperialistic attitudes.)
22nd April 2011 at 09:04pm
You have it backwards. There is no way they could have any less freedom now than they did before market reforms. The development of a middle class and a freeing of as many people as possible from dependency on the state is a prerequisite to the development of an intellectual environment evolving toward freedom.
Maoism WAS THE IMPERIALISM that the bright lights of the western political-academic caste didn’t want to tell you about.
26th April 2011 at 02:04pm
Oh well, Maoism was an imperialism, as Sovietism, the British Empire, the Washington Consensus.. every form in which the centre dominate and decide the policies for its different kind of colonies for its own advantage can be called imperialism. And in any moment I said that market economy is a less free condition than Maoism! That’s just out of the discussion and the bright light of the political academic caste surely agrees with you about it, as do I, the, media and even Marxist analysts nowadays. There is no sense anymore to compare the political possibilities of different forms of contemporary capitalism with post-war communism, I think the discourse is well closed.
I also agree that the development of a middle class increases the percentage of the population that enjoys some form of freedom, normally, freedom of consumption and mobility, and also increases the possibilities of political freedom to be developed in a future. What is interesting in the case of China is that political freedom is still not in place while the neoliberal shift and the creation of a middle class with all its property rights is older than a couple of decades.
I was just wondering if we’ll see before a democratic or an imperialistic shift, or, why not? both at the time, as capitalist democracies has shown they can be inherently imperialist when given the opportunity.
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