Northwestern University

Thu 5:00 PM

The Politics of Compassion: the Sichuan Earthquake and Civic Engagement in China

When: Thursday, March 8, 2018
5:00 PM - 6:30 PM  

Where: 1902 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Elizabeth Morrissey  

Group: Equality Development and Globalization Studies (EDGS)

Department of Political Science

Category: Lectures & Meetings


EDGS and Political Science Speaker Series on “Society and Politics in the Asia-Pacific”

Bin Xu, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology at Emory University

The 2008 Sichuan earthquake killed 87,000 people and left 5 million homeless. In response to the devastation, an unprecedented wave of volunteers and civic associations streamed into Sichuan to offer help. Bin Xu's new book The Politics of Compassion (Stanford University Press, 2017) examines how civically engaged citizens acted on the ground, how they understood the meaning of their actions, and how the political climate shaped their actions and understandings. Using extensive data from interviews, observations, and textual materials, Bin Xu shows that the large-scale civic engagement was not just a natural outpouring of compassion, but also a complex social process, both enabled and constrained by the authoritarian political context. While volunteers expressed their sympathy toward the affected people's suffering, many avoided explicitly talking about the causes of the suffering—particularly in the case of the collapse of thousands of schools. Xu shows that this silence and apathy is explained by a general inability to discuss politically sensitive issues while living in a repressive state. This book is a powerful account of how the widespread death and suffering caused by the earthquake illuminates the moral-political dilemma faced by Chinese citizens and provides a window into the world of civic engagement in contemporary China.

Bin Xu is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at Emory University. His research interests lie at the intersection of politics and culture. He is currently writing a book and a few related articles on the collective memory of China’s “educated youth” (zhiqing) generation—the 17 million youth sent down to the countryside in the 1960s and 1970s. His research has appeared in leading sociological and China studies journals.

Add Event to Calendar

Add Event To My Group:

Please sign-in