In the early twentieth century, a time of political fragmentation and social upheaval in China, poverty became the focus of an anguished national conversation about the future of the country. Investigating the lives of the urban poor in China during this critical era, Guilty of Indigence examines the solutions implemented by a nation attempting to deal with "society's most fundamental problem." Interweaving analysis of shifting social viewpoints, the evolution of poor relief institutions, and the lived experiences of the urban poor, Janet Chen explores the development of Chinese attitudes toward urban poverty and of policies intended for its alleviation.
Chen concentrates on Beijing and Shanghai, two of China's most important cities, and she considers how various interventions carried a lasting influence. The advent of the workhouse, the denigration of the nonworking poor as "social parasites," efforts to police homelessness and vagrancy--all had significant impact on the lives of people struggling to survive. Chen provides a crucially needed historical lens for understanding how beliefs about poverty intersected with shattering historical events, producing new welfare policies and institutions for the benefit of some, but to the detriment of others.
Drawing on vast archival material, Guilty of Indigence deepens the historical perspective on poverty in China and reveals critical lessons about a still-pervasive social issue.
Janet Y. Chen is assistant professor of history and East Asian Studies at Princeton University.
"The book does a marvelous job of analyzing the discourse surrounding poverty in China. [I]t certainly belongs on the short list of pioneering studies . . . that offer sophisticated analyses of the lives of illiterate, unprivileged men and women in Chinese cities in the decades before establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949."--Kristin Stapleton, American Historical Review
"This book makes an important contribution to the field of modern Chinese history. . . . Janet Y. Chen provides new insight into how the notion of poverty was redefined during this tumultuous and complicated period. Although the ideas and arguments are complex and sophisticated, this is a clearly argued and crisply written book, one that could be easily used in part or in whole in an upper division undergraduate course."--Hong-Ming Liang, Historian
"This book is a veritable model of a social history monograph--one that aspiring PhD students would do well to emulate. . . . It is unusual for a monograph so firmly placed within social history to be as attentive to the unenviable positions in which both weak governments and weak citizens found themselves, but in this Chen's work more than succeeds."--Julia C. Strauss, China Journal
Table of Contents:
A Note on Conventions ix
Chapter 1: Between Charity and Punishment 13
Chapter 2: "Parasites upon Society" 46
Chapter 3: "Living Ghosts" during the Nanjing Decade 86
Chapter 4: Beggars or Refugees? 128
Chapter 5: Keeping Company with Ghosts 173