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Kho, Tung-Yi (2019) In search of the Good Life in Contemporary China : Stories from ShenZhen. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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What makes a good life? And, specifically, what makes a good life in China today? The question is relevant because in the course of the past thirty-plus years, China sustained a historically unprecedented economic growth rate that averaged roughly 10% annually, lifting over 800 million of its population out of poverty. In line with these developments, urbanization proceeded apace throughout the country, precipitated by large-scale rural-urban migration. With an estimated 440 million rural-urban migrants in the 30 years since 1979, China’s urban population exceeded its rural population for the first time in 2011 and has only continued to increase since. Such radical economic and demographic transformation of what has historically been an agrarian civilisation has led to talk of a civilisation-switch that has widely been celebrated as a monumental success. But have these coeval meta-level processes of modernization, implied by economic progress, development, and urbanisation, yielded the good life? While asking about the good life has been the perennial quest of philosophy, this inquiry is based on a grounded empirical investigation. Essentially, my project has deployed the methods of anthropology to furnish an answer to what is a philosophical question. My study was based on ethnographic research conducted in Shenzhen, South China, over two extended stints totaling some twenty-four months. The city, which is in the Pearl River Delta region (zhujiangsanjiao 珠江三角), was the field-site of choice for my ethnography because it was the country’s first Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and also its most successful. My interlocutors were all rural-migrants who had left home for Shenzhen in search of the supposedly good life. Did they find it? My research sought to find out, in the process, shedding light on the nature of modernity and our prospects of attaining the good life within it.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Stephen Hughes
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 03 Mar 2020 14:24

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