Morality and Desire. Sexuality, Gender and Inequality in Contemporary China

Talk by Jean-Baptiste Pettier

The period of economic reforms which opened up in China since the 1980s has been regularly understood as one of sexual liberation and of reaffirmation of gender identities. Prostitution and pornography became widely publicly visible, in particular through the generalization of corruption practices for male decision-makers. In these circumstances, the Chinese public debate produced a strong critic concerning the unrealistic character of the Maoist era’s ideals. The most notable common point to these debates is the rejection of a constructionist perspective on human nature. This through the general acceptance of the notion that sexual desire, particularly men’s one, would be a "natural need." Two morals, one calling for the mastership of desire; the second one calling for its accomplishment, oppose themselves here. Desire is situated in between animality and civilisation, thus turning it into a matter of Chinese moral identity.

Jean-Baptiste Pettier obtained his PhD in social anthropology from the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, with a broad interdisciplinary background in social sciences and a specialization in Chinese society. His main research thematics concern sentiments, affect, and morality, and their relationships with political and economic conditions. His PhD was dedicated to the phenomenon of marriage brokering in contemporary urban China, and to the moral debates concerning this practice. He is currently a Dahlem Research School Postdoctoral Fellow in the Affective Societies Collaborative Research Center of the Freie Universität Berlin, Germany; and a visiting researcher at the Department of Anthropology of the UCLA.

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Published: Thursday, December 06, 2018