Accepted Paper:

"People here don't need money!": between Utopia and neoliberalism in Southwest China  


Eveline Bingaman (National Tsing Hua University)

Paper short abstract:

By exploring the tensions that arise between visitors and local people in Southwest China, this paper explores the conflicts between the desire to experience a lost rural utopia and the local people's struggle to maintain their subsistence as they come into contact with China's national economic system.

Paper long abstract:

This paper offers an ethnography of the conflicts between Han Chinese rural visions of utopia and the pressures of neoliberalism facing subsistence farmers in rural Southwest China. Eya Naxi Ethnic Township is located in the southern foothills of the Tibetan Plateau in Sichuan Province. Until 2010 the area was only accessible via foot or horse and today the area continues to maintain an economy of subsistence farming supplemented by long distance trade in a few agricultural products. Since Eya first became accessible by vehicle, Han Chinese travelers have begun visiting the township's villages searching to experience their vision of a simpler past uncomplicated by the rat-race of China's contemporary market economy. Many of these visitors have subsequently written online blog posts about their adventures describing a village cut off from the passage of time, characterized by a primitive lifestyle and strange customs. This paper will describe the tensions between a visiting group of photographers seeking to document the local custom of fraternal polyandry (i.e. two or more brothers sharing a wife) and the local people they interacted with. Specifically, this ethnography will focus on exploring conflicting perceptions of what constitutes a gift and what should and should not be commodified.

Panel Rur001
Ethnography of rural spaces: between utopia and neoliberalism