Accepted Paper:

'Hope forges man's destiny': hope as an insurance for the future in inner Mongolia  


Paula Haas

Paper short abstract:

Barga Mongols describe their past in terms of loss, their present as hopeless, and their future as dark. At the same time, hope is held to be a moral act with the power to shape the future. This paper explores the morality and agency of hope, and the relation between hope, despair, fear and trust.

Paper long abstract:

Life among the Barga Mongols in Hulunbuir in Inner Mongolia (PRC) is permeated by a distinct sense of loss and hopelessness. Until the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, their past has been interspersed with violent and traumatic events which constitute an important part of the collective memory. Even though in material terms life has improved significantly over the last three decades, many Barga describe the present as a period of moral decay, social disintegration, corruption and crime. Most people have difficulties believing that the future will be better and rather anticipate ethnic extinction and natural disasters. Yet, there is hope, which in the local understanding is imbued with an explicit agentive power to shape the future. Barga Mongols believe that nothing bad will happen to 'good people', i.e. those who act, speak and think in morally appropriate ways. Interestingly, trust and hope, which are both expressed by the same term, are considered to be morally good actions, even when they seem unwarranted. The act of hoping thus partakes in shaping an individual future free from calamities and pain. This paper will explore the relationship between hopelessness as a way to describe the situation of the Barga as a group, and hope as an individual 'insurance' for the future. I will furthermore elaborate on the relation between trust and hope, as well as on the work this kind of hope accomplishes in a natural and social environment to which people often relate in terms of anxiety and fear.

Panel W002
Ethnographies of hope