Please forgive me for a shameless self-promotion! My book, Governing Death and Making Person: The New Chinese Way of Death, has recently been published by Cornell University Press. An ethnography of contemporary urban Chinese death rituals and the Shanghai funeral industry, this book describes how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) governed death, how such governance was used to construct specific ideas of a person, and how such governance changed after the introduction of market economic reforms. In the book, I illustrate changes in CCP governance of death from its early promotion of civil funerals (“memorial meetings”) and consolidation of the industry into a state monopoly to a detailed look at the consequences of its post market economic reforms as they affected funeral professionals, the bereaved, and the commemoration of the dead. This book is based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Shanghai funeral parlors between mid-2010 and early 2012. I’d very much appreciate it if you might recommend the book to your libraries, check it out yourselves if you get a chance, and let me know your thoughts!
Governing Death, Making Persons tells the story of how economic reforms and changes in the management of death in China have affected the governance of persons. The Chinese Communist Party has sought to channel the funeral industry and death rituals into vehicles for reshaping people into "modern" citizens and subjects. Since the Reform and Opening period and the marketization of state funeral parlors, the Party has promoted personalized funerals in the hope of promoting a market-oriented and individualistic ethos. However, things have not gone as planned.
Huwy-min Lucia Liu writes about the funerals she witnessed and the life stories of two kinds of funeral workers: state workers who are quasi-government officials and semilegal private funeral brokers. She shows that end-of-life commemoration in urban China today is characterized by the resilience of social conventions and not a shift toward market economy individualization. Rather than seeing a rise of individualism and the decline of a socialist self, Liu sees the durability of socialist, religious, communal, and relational ideas of self, woven together through creative ritual framings in spite of their contradictions.