Lijiang Stories

Shamans, Taxi Drivers, and Runaway Brides in Reform-Era China

Emily Chao
Foreword by Stevan Harrell

  • Published: 2013
  • Subject Listing: Asian Studies / China; Anthropology
  • Bibliographic information: 232 pp., 21 illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Studies on Ethnic Groups in China
  • Contents

Lijiang, a once-sleepy market town in southwest China, has become a magnet for tourism since the mid-1990s. Drawing on stories about taxi drivers, reluctant brides, dogmeat, and shamanism, Emily Chao illustrates how biopolitics and the essentialization of difference shape the ways in which Naxi residents represent and interpret their social world.

The vignettes presented here are lively examples of the cultural reverberations that have occurred throughout contemporary China in the wake of its emergence as a global giant. With particular attention to the politics of gender, ethnicity, and historical representation, Chao reveals how citizens strategically imagine, produce, and critique a new moral economy in which the market and neoliberal logic are preeminent.
Emily Chao is professor of anthropology at Pitzer College, Claremont, California.

"Chao explores several facets of modernization and ethnic revival, including changing gender roles and marriage practices, disputes about ethnic authenticity, and the rapid economic changes that have reshaped the region. She has a delightful authorial voice, deep experience in the region, and a good eye for the humorous incident or important minor detail."
-Sara Davis, author of Song and Silence: Ethnic Revival on China's Southwest Borders

"These are good stories told to maximum theoretical effect. Chao writes clearly and fluently, with the result that her stories are page-turners and her sophisticated theoretical points are easily comprehensible."
-Stevan Harrell, author of Ways of Being Ethnic in Southwest China

Foreword by Stevan Harrell


1. The Maoist Shaman and the Madman
2. Dongba Culture and the Authenticization of Marginality
3. Ethnicizing Myth, Bride Abduction, and Elopement
4. Biopolitics: Fox Stench, Gender Boundaries, and the Moral Economy of Postsocialism
5. Marketing Difference: Dog Meat, Court Cases, and Ethnopreneurs

Conclusion Forgetting the Madman and Remembering the Ancient Tea Horse Road

"Lijiang Stories is much more than a set of stories. It is a careful exegesis of the many strands that, woven together, have become today's Lijiang. The accessible prose and fascinating range of skillfully analyzed, ethnographically nuanced "stories would make this an excellent text for courses on contemporary China."
-Tami Blumenfield, China Quarterly

"Chao's ethnographic approach digs beneath the surface to uncover the underlying power of state and capital and to illustrate everyday life as an outcome of conflicts and compromises between individuals and structural forces. . . . Chao presents a living picture of Lijiang in which individuals are brought into the orbit of development driven by state and private investors."
- Xiaobo Su, China Journal

"Though not a typical ethnography, Lijiang Stories is informed by a good deal of ethnographic research. Chao's interpretations of her stories illuminate the shifting meanings of ethnicity, gender, class and national identity in an era of profound social change. . . . Lijiang Stories is a valuable addition to the growing scholarship on Chinese minorities in the post-socialist era."
-Susan K. McCarthy, Pacific Affairs

"Lijiang Stories is a well-informed page-turner, an ethnographic monograph in the classical sense of the word. Ethnographically rich and theoretically engaging....[A] wonderful case for any comparison of neoliberal policies and their effects today....[W]onderfully vivid...[A] pleasurable lecture for both specialists and a larger public."
-Carolina Ivanescu, Social Anthropology