Chinese Discourses on Happiness


Edited by Gerda Wielander and Derek Hird

ISBN : 978-988-8455-72-0

Anthropology, Sociology, Psychology

November 2018

244 pages, 6″ x 9″, 20 b&w illus. & 2 tables

  • HK$450.00

Happiness is on China’s agenda. From Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream” to online chat forums, the conspicuous references to happiness are hard to miss. This groundbreaking volume analyzes how different social groups make use of the concept and shows how closely official discourses on happiness are intertwined with popular sentiments. The Chinese Communist Party’s attempts to define happiness and well-being around family-focused Han Chinese cultural traditions clearly strike a chord with the wider population. The collection highlights the links connecting the ideologies promoted by the government and the way they inform, and are in turn informed by, various deliberations and feelings circulating in the society.

Contributors analyze the government’s “happiness maximization strategies,” including public service advertising campaigns, Confucian and Daoist-inflected discourses adapted for the self-help market, and the promotion of positive psychology as well as “happy housewives.” They also discuss forces countering the hegemonic discourse: different forms of happiness in the LGBTQ community, teachings of Tibetan Buddhism that subvert the material culture propagated by the government, and the cynical messages in online novels that expose the fictitious nature of propaganda. Collectively, the authors bring out contemporary Chinese voices engaging with different philosophies, practices, and idealistic imaginings on what it means to be happy.

Gerda Wielander is a professor of Chinese Studies at the University of Westminster. Her research focuses on the link between the spiritual and the political in contemporary China. Derek Hird is a senior lecturer in Chinese studies at Lancaster University, UK. His research interests include gender and masculinities and mental health needs of Chinese migrants in London.

“This distinctive volume creates sustained dialogues around a substantive debate. Rejecting the conventional contrasts between China and the West, and yet deeply immersed in sinophone media, the authors understand Chinese discourse on happiness as multiple but interconnected conversations within a globally shared production of knowledge. Equally concerned with text and image, they exhibit an ethnographic eye as sharp as any orthodox ethnography.” —Deborah Davis, Yale University

“Wielander and Hird have put together a superbly researched and thoughtfully written set of essays on the multiple ways in which that most elusive of all states—happiness—is understood and pursued in contemporary China. A volume that should become required reading for all interested in Chinese society today.” —Julia C. Strauss, SOAS, University of London

Chinese Discourses on Happiness is a timely new collection of essays edited by two sinologists based in Britain, Gerda Wielander and Derek Hird. It explores how China’s propaganda machine devotes extraordinary efforts to promoting the idea that the Chinese people enjoy good and meaningful lives under Communism—precisely because economic growth alone does a poor job of generating happiness.” —The Economist

Interview with Gerda Wielander at BBC World Service (from 44:08)