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

Monday, April 20, 2020 at 4:30pm to 6:00pm

Goldwin Smith Hall, 64 Kaufman Auditorium

Bin Xu, Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at Emory University will speak on: The Politics of Compassion: The Sichuan Earthquaker and Civic Engagement in China. and the talk is co-sponsored by the Polson Institute for Global Development and the East Asia Program.

Abstract: 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. In his The Politics of Compassion: The Sichuan Earthquake and Civic Engagement in China (Stanford 2017), Bin Xu 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, 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 has won the Mary Douglas Prize for Best Book in the Sociology of Culture and also an honorable mention for Best Book on Asia, both from American Sociological Association (2018).

Biography: Bin Xu is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at Emory University. His research interests lie at the intersection of politics and culture. He is the author of The Politics of Compassion: The Sichuan Earthquake and Civic Engagement in China (Stanford University Press, 2017). He has finished a book manuscript 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. He is currently writing his third book The Culture of Democracy: A Sociological Approach to Civil Society (under contract with Polity Press, in the cultural sociology series).


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Development Sociology, East Asia Program, Cornell China Center


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Bin Xu

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Emory University

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