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On Intimate Choices and Troubles in Rural South China*


This article explores how marriage practices and intimate relations are being refashioned in reform-era China in the context of increasingly entangled intersections between private negotiations and public dialogues in law, state policy, science, and the media. Based on long-term field research in impoverished rural areas, the article focuses on the intersections between intimate practices of the everyday and large-scale projects of social engineering aimed at turning ordinary ‘peasants’ into ‘modern civilized citizens’. The article draws particular attention to the important role played by the Birth Planning Policy in shaping local reproductive practices and intimate structures, but the approach developed here to make sense of the impact of globalized neo-Malthusian state interventions on local realities considers also the perspective and the agency of ordinary individuals and communities. Instead of assuming that changes in local practices follow primarily from the impact of external forces such as state policies and technologies of birth planning, the article suggests that local practices and global forces co-produce each other through ‘frictions’ of various kinds. This focus on the micro-macro intersections of what I call here the ‘techno-politics of intimacy’ joins recent efforts in the humanities and social sciences to move beyond conventional top-down approaches to global intimate transformations.

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Funding for this research article was provided by the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle. I am very grateful for this support. I am also indebted to the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology for the support provided between 2008 and 2011 (SFRH/BPD/40396/2007). Thanks are also due to the University of Hong Kong for the support provided between 2015 and 2016 (Seed Funding Project 201411159201 ‘Intimate Modernities. Love, Money, and Everyday Ethics in the Hills of Guangdong, 1976–2014’). Earlier versions of this article were presented at the Centre for Modern Indian Studies, Georg-August Universität Göttingen, and at the Twelfth Biennial Conference of the European Association for Social Anthropology. I am grateful for all the comments and suggestions received on these different occasions.

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Modern Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 0026-749X
  • EISSN: 1469-8099
  • URL: /core/journals/modern-asian-studies
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