Wednesday, April 23, 2014

[Publication] The Problem of Greed in Economic Anthropology: Sumptuary Laws and New Consumerism in China

Professor Joseph Bosco has recently published his article "The Problem of Greed in Economic Anthropology: Sumptuary Laws and New Consumerism in China" in Economic Anthropology. In this article, through review and comparison of the restriction on consumption in both Qing Dynasty and Mao's China, he argued, based on his research on shampoo consumption in China, that "the present push to greater consumption, just like the past restrictions on consumption, is based not on individual motivation or personality, but on the cultural logic of the system itself."

Click here to view the whole article.    

Until recently, greed was kept in check in China by two forms of nonreligious restriction on consumption, the sumptuary laws of the imperial period and by politically imposed austerity of the collective era. Sumptuary laws in Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) China, enforced Confucian notions of hierarchy, modesty, and restraint and limited the display and spending of the wealthy. In contrast, political and social pressures led the masses in Mao's China to dress virtually alike. Though there were significant, albeit small, variations in clothing among urban residents, the apparent homogeneity in consumption was as much the result of poverty as of political commitment. Post-1979, hyperconsumerism has swept aside all traditional restrictions and reservations on conspicuous display. This is illustrated by the rapid acceptance of foreign brands of shampoo beginning in the 1990s. The discourse of greed and excess focuses on individual motivation, as is common in the thinking of individualizing capitalism. The case of shampoo in China shows that the present push to greater consumption, just like the past restrictions on consumption, is based not on individual motivation or personality, but on the cultural logic of the system itself.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

[In the Press] Prof. Mathews in BBC news on Chungking Mansions

Professor Gordon Mathews was interviewed and featured in a BBC news on "Chungking Mansions: Inside Hong Kong's favourite 'ghetto' ".

"Gordon Mathews, an anthropology professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who spent four years researching and staying in Chungking Mansions, describes the complex as "a world hub of low-end globalisation".

Traders from developing countries come to Chungking Mansions to buy goods in demand back home, he says, "carrying their goods in their own luggage, or renting a container or part of a container, and shipping the goods pretty much on their own".

The deals are done "on the basis of trust, and often under the radar of the law," he says.

Many traders try to avoid import taxes by carrying their merchandise themselves or bribing customs officials, while many of the employees in the shops are working illegally.

Prof Mathews estimates that in 2008, about 20% of mobile phones in use in sub-Saharan Africa had been sold in Chungking Mansions, although that number has since decreased.

Many of the phones sold today are 14-day phones: phones which were returned by European customers within 14 days of purchase, which retailers buy at a discount and sell on.

Directly above the phone shops, a very different kind of business is thriving."

To read the full story, please click here.
picture source:

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Final Year Project Forum 2014

Undergraduate students of the Anthropology Department will do a Final Year Field Project (FYP) under the supervision of a faculty member. The purpose of the Final Year Field Project is to enable students to use all they have learned in their years of anthropology study to develop their own independent field project on a topic of their choosing, a project typically involving extensive fieldwork.

This year's FYP Forum will be held on April 23, 2014, 2:00-5:30pm, at NAH213. Students will share findings of their final year projects. A variety of topics will be covered: parenting, gender, urban development, activism, popular culture and many more. You are most welcome to come and support our students!

Date: April 23, 2014 (Wed)
Time: 2:00~5:30 pm
Venue: Room213, Humanities Building, New Asia College, CUHK

Thursday, April 17, 2014

[Indian Culture Workshop 2013-2014] Session 3: An Indian…made in China

Session 3: An Indian…made in China
Speakers: Mr. Vivek Mahbubani

What is the life of a minority, namely Indian in Hong Kong like? Are there tons of stereotypes in their growing up experiences? Can you imagine how it feels being treated by others as they treat the minorities?

Vivek Mahbubani, a well-known comedian in Hong Kong, was awarded the funniest person in 2007 and 2008. He spent his time in Hong Kong as a teenager, a university student, and now works in the I.T. industry in Hong Kong.

In this session, Vivek has shared with the audiences about his experiences as an Indian in Hong Kong. His experiences were not always as cheerful as his comedy. Rather, in his childhood, he had come across with all types of discrimination and stereotypes that every Indian would experience-- from the length of eyelashes, the size of nose, and the amount of bodyhair. People somehow picked on him because of these generalized stereotypes they have on the Indians.

Vivek went to a relatively prestigious local high school that allowed him to choose between French and Chinese other than just learning English. He chose French. He explained that his Chinese was sufficient for him to communicate with others successfully, and thus had considered to start a new language. To this extent, he then touched on the hot topic about setting up the Chinese as Secondary Language (CSL) for ethnic minorities in Hong Kong. He claims that, from his point of view and experiences, it is not the syllabus that is problematic, but the government and authorities who oversee the need of social supporting. He suggested that instead of giving ethnic minority students a different syllabus in local schools, the resources should be allocated to offer support, such as tutoring. 

Yet, his experience of prejudice has changed when he got into the City University of Hong Kong for his undergraduate studies. In the university, having a foreign friend makes people stand out, and seen as good and different. Because of this, a lot of local students approached Vivek actively and wanted to meet him. The change has amazed him, and he now wonders whether these experiences later on inspired him to become a comedian. 

Monday, April 14, 2014


二零一四年一月在人類學系的邀請下,敦煌研究院院長樊錦詩教授來到香港中文大學進行了兩次關於敦煌莫高窟的文化價值及其保護的演講,並專程來到本系與張展鴻、呂烈丹、林舟(Joseph Bosco)教授以及黃瑜、陳如珍、徐渭芝等幾位老師針對敦煌莫高窟的保護問題進行了探討。敦煌研究院就樊錦詩教授赴港之行進行了詳細的報導




Wednesday, April 9, 2014

[Upcoming Seminar] Milk Powder, Yakult and Cigarettes – Cross-border Shopping and ‘Borrowed Modernity’ in China

Milk Powder, Yakult and Cigarettes – Cross-border Shopping and ‘Borrowed Modernity’ in China

Speaker: CHAN Yuk Wah
(Assistant Professor, City University of Hong Kong)
Time: 12:30 p.m., Friday, 11 April 2014
Venue: Room 401 Humanities Building, New Asia College, CUHK

Hong Kong received over 30 million Chinese tourists in 2012, a majority of whom crossed the land border through the ‘Individual Travelers Scheme’ (described colloquially as ziyouxing, free-walk) implemented in Hong Kong since 2003. While Chinese tourists continued to flock to HK to buy toothpaste, medicine, milk powder, Yakult (益力多) and other daily consumer items, there has been increasing noise in Hong Kong objecting to the unregulated massive influx of Chinese tourists. This seminar will provide updated data of Chinese outbound tourism into Hong Kong and the cultural meanings of this type of cross-border shopping. It offers a thick description of borderland interaction between mainlanders and Hong Kongers. It argues that cross-border shopping is not only about corporeal experiences of material modernity in outbound tourism, it is also about a lack of ‘material authenticity’ in post-reform China. This shopping reveals the ‘risk society’ produced by the China model, which has forced millions of southerners to obtain authentic material goods and borrow ‘modernity’ from across the border.

Yuk Wah Chan is Assistant Professor at City University of Hong Kong. Her research areas include Chinese outbound tourism, migration, borderlands and Vietnam-China relations. Her recent publications include ‘Vietnamese-Chinese Relationships at the Borderlands: Trade, Tourism and Cultural Politics’ (Routledge, 2013) and ‘The Chinese/Vietnamese Diaspora - Revisiting the Boat People’ (Routledge, 2011).

The seminar will be conducted in English


Monday, April 7, 2014

[Indian Culture Workshop 2013-2014] Session 2: An experience in Hinduism, Indian food and dress

Session 2: An experience in Hinduism, Indian food and dress
Speakers: Mr. Steven Matthew, Ms. Lillian Tsang from ISKCON Temple

Have you ever wonder why all the Gods in Hinduism are in blue? Why they have so many Gods? Are they worshipping idols? What does yoga mean in Indian culture? Why usually all yoga sessions end with a word “Namaste,” what does it mean?

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), known colloquially as the Hare Krishna movement or Hare Krishnas, is a Hindu Gaudiya Vaishnava religious organization. It centers its beliefs around the sacred text Bhagavad Gita in Hinduism. The ISKCON Hong Kong works hard to promote understanding and experiences to the majority Chinese.

In this session, the participants of the workshop together with Prof. Tam went to the ISKCON Temple in Tsim Sha Tsui to try to gain some insights in Hinduism—the dominant religion in India, as well as learn about Indian food and dress culture—precisely how the religion has influenced both, and simultaneously how both Indian food and dress culture affect outsiders’ interpretation of the religion.
The Hindu god Krishna worshipped in ISKCON

Mr. Steven Matthew, a priest of the temple, presented an overview of Hinduism in general and the ISKCON movement in particular. According to Mr. Matthew, Hinduism is the world’s oldest organized religion, and it is still the most popular religion in India—encompassing about 80% of the population. ISKCON, commonly known as the Hare Krishna Movement, is a branch of the Hindu tradition founded by Srila Prabhupada in New York city in 1965. The ISKCON temple in Hong Kong is a place where many Indians celebrate their tradition away from home.

Mr. Steven Matthew lecturing on religious traditions in India

Steven starts the presentation by explaining the meaning of Namaste—a common phrase Hong Kong people usually hear when they finish any yoga class. It is, according to Steven, a traditional Hindu way of greeting each other. In Hindu doctrines, they believe that bringing the hands together in front of the heart can increase the flow of Divine love. Doing a legit greeting with Namaste, one should close the eyes and bow the head. This allows the individual to surrender to the Divine in the heart, and free from ego-connection. Put differently, Namaste allows a person greeting another spiritual person from the inner self.

Musical chanting plays an important role in Hindu rituals and traditions. Especially, music and dance are the preferred worship vehicles for Krishna devotees. After Steven’s presentation, Miss Lillian Tsang led the participants to sing a spiritual hymn that is dedicated to Krishna. A traditional Indian musical instrument is used to accompany the hymn.

Ms. Lillian Tsang leading a Hindu hymn
The participants had a chance to try on the Indian style dress and visit the designated kitchen where offering to the god is prepared. The visit ended with a light vegetarian meal prepared by the temple’s devotees, which include a delicious almond cake made without using eggs (egg is considered as a taboo for Krishna devotees).
Participants trying on Indian style dress

Participants visiting the designated kitchen in ISKCON where the offering to the god is prepared

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Anthropologists on the Road Series(2): Yak and the Tibetans

Yaks are iconic on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. They have occupied a special position in the herders' life and in local society. After the old yaks run out of milk, the herders would keep them in the drove instead of selling them in the market, which was often blamed by the environmentalists for exhausting the grasslands. 

In our former MPhil student Zhou Tao's article "Yak and the Tibetans", through a general description of local culture, he explains the dynamic between yaks and the herders from an anthropologist's view. Click the picture below to see the whole article in Hong Kong Discovery (Vol 74), Anthropologists on the Road series.   

Thursday, April 3, 2014

[Upcoming Seminar] 台灣的音樂、青年文化與社會抗議: 從美麗島到台北佔領運動

As a part of the preparation for the coming undergraduate field trip to Taiwan, Anthropology Department has invited CHANG, Tieh-chih (張鐵志)to give a talk. He will review social changes in Taiwan since the 1970s with a focus on the relationship between rock music, social activism and politics. Chang is a writer, rock/cultural critic and activist from Taiwan. He is the author of the influential book Sounds and Fury: Can Rock & Roll Change the World and the current chief editor of the City Magazine (號外) in Hong Kong.

The talk will be in Mandarin in NAH213, at 4:30 - 6:00 pm on April 7 (Monday).



台灣人,現任香港《號外》雜誌主編兼聯合出版人、 《彭博商業周刊/中文版》主筆。 長期參與與觀台灣社會運動,尤其是音樂、另類文化與反抗運動的聯繫,曾為美國哥倫比亞政治學博士候選人。在兩岸出版著作有《聲音與憤怒:搖滾樂可以改變世界嗎?》、《時代的噪音:從狄倫到U2的抵抗之聲》。

時間:二零一四年四月七日 (星期一) 下午四時三十分至六時
地點:香港中文大學 新亞書院人文館213室


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

[Upcoming Seminar] Holdout, Obedience, and Transmutation: The Redevelopment of Chengzhongcun in Guangzhou

Holdout, Obedience, and Transmutation: The Redevelopment of Chengzhongcun in Guangzhou

Speaker: CHEN Hong
(Assistant Professor, School of Geography, South China Normal University)
Time: 12:30 p.m., Friday, 4 April 2014
Venue: Room 401 Humanities Building, New Asia College, CUHK

The Chinese word “chengzhongcun” means "villages-in-the-city" in English. It is a distinctive phenomenon in the process of Chinese state-led urbanization, and is characterized by the maintenance of collective land ownership and a landscape of self-built multi-story buildings that house millions of rural migrants in Chinese cities. As the “half-urban-and-half-rural” entity was viewed as “backward”, the Guangzhou Municipal Government has carried out a range of redevelopment plans since 2000. Through examining the role of actors (including local governments, rural collectives and individuals), the changes of social and cultural factors, and the transformation of spatial reconstruction, this talk will present initial findings from a case study of several chengzhongcun in Guangzhou. In particular, a radical ten-year “elimination” redevelopment plan announced in 2009, which aims to demolish the 138 chengzhongcun within the municipality by 2020 will be examined.

The seminar will be conducted in English