Accepted paper:

Times have changed': marriage as the 'apolitical' in the age of China's Market Reform


Roberta Zavoretti (Universität zu Köln)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on Gramsci’s work on hegemony, this paper maintains that the Chinese state’s production of marriage as an ‘apolitical’ field contributes to the reproduction of the capitalist system. At the same time, informants’ talk on marriage destabilises the state’s claim to be the sole legitimate moral referent.

Paper long abstract:

This paper draws on data collected in different cities of China's east coast to argue that the Chinese state's discursive production of marriage as an 'apolitical' matter contributes to sustaining the hegemonic political/economic system. According to Yang (2000), the ritual economy constitutes an isolated space where 'alternative logics' contest the capitalist system. A Gramscian perspective shows how it is precisely through the production of these fields as 'apolitical' that the Chinese state has maintained its legitimacy across the Open Door Reform and is continuously renegotiating consent. In China, the 1950 marriage law stipulated that marriage had to be based on the spouses' affection and on their commitment to jointly undertake the project of socialist construction. In the post-Mao, however, state propaganda and the media gradually ceased to portray marriage as a matter of politics. The development of market economy and of consumer culture encouraged Chinese citizens to practice courtship and marriage as if they belonged to an 'apolitical' sphere of individual needs for competition and consumption. Marriage, however, remains also a family matter, where both feelings and wealth are at stake. As the state retrenches from service provision and labour competition becomes more fierce, urban-based citizens struggle to become 'eligible' on the marriage market. While the Chinese state makes continuous efforts to produce a believable ideal of society, informants voice their growing discontent about the rise of 'hedonism' versus 'old values' of companionship. These ideological tensions point at the inherent instability of hegemonic systems, and do not necessarily herald the subversion of capitalism.

panel PE39
Capitalism and global anthropology: Marxism resurgent