New Book: The Stranger and the Chinese Moral Imagination

Not a work of philosophy, but certainly relevant to anyone concerned with contemporary China and contemporary Chinese philosophy, Haiyan Lee’s new book has just been published: The Stranger and the Chinese Moral Imagination by Stanford University Press (2014).

This book investigates the modern Chinese moral imagination through the figure of the stranger. Strangers are outsiders who come into our communities and stay with us, bringing alien manners and values with them and never quite renouncing their mobility. They are a threat to a community’s peace and order, but they also promise change and renewal. In modern China, the stranger has been a ubiquitous figure that tests the moral limits of a society known for the primacy of consanguinity and familiarity. This book employs the concepts of kinship sociality and stranger sociality to map out the moral dilemmas and responses set in motion by the coming of strangers. It surveys the Chinese moral landscape by following the itineraries of several groups of strangers—foreigners in China, peasant migrants in cities, bourgeois intellectuals in exile, disenfranchised class enemies, unattached women, animals on the edge of human society, and apparitions in a secular age—across a range of narrative and visual genres from the late imperial period to the new millennium. It makes a twofold argument: that the pervasive sense of moral crisis in contemporary China has roots in both the Confucian and socialist pasts, and that imaginative literature is the best training ground for coping with the quintessential condition of modernity in which strangers are routinely thrown together.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Talking to Strangers

Part I. Alien Kind

CH1. The Benighted and the Enchanted

CH2. Animals Are Us

Part II. Fictive Kin

CH3. The Power and Pollution of the Stranger Woman

CH4. The Country and the City

Part III. Friends and Foes

CH5. The Enemy Within

CH6. Foreign Devils         

Conclusion: Literature and the Veil of Ignorance

For more information, go to

Haiyan Lee, Associate Professor, East Asian Languages & Cultures, Comparative Literature, Stanford University

One reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.