Yunxiang Yan

2010 - US & Canada Competition
Humanities - East Asian Studies


A native of Beijing, Yunxiang Yan was forced to drop out of school at the age of twelve and spent the subsequent twelve years working as a shepherd and farmer in two Chinese villages during the Cultural Revolution period. He returned to school in 1978, earning a B.A. in Chinese Literature and a M.A. in Folklore and Mythology from Peking University, and a Ph.D. in Social Anthropology from Harvard University. He has previously taught at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Johns Hopkins University and is currently a Professor of Anthropology at University of California, Los Angeles. Unpacking and understanding the moral experiences of ordinary people in the fast-changing world today constitutes the abiding theme in his anthropological career over the last twenty-plus years, and his research interests include family and kinship, economic anthropology, social change and development, cultural globalization, and the individual-society relationship. He is the author of The Flow of Gifts: Reciprocity and Social Networks in a Chinese Village (Stanford UP, 1996), Private Life under Socialism: Love, Intimacy, and Family Change in a Chinese Village, 1949-1999 (Stanford UP, 2003), and The Individualization of Chinese Society (Berg, 2009).

With the Guggenheim fellowship, Yunxiang Yan will complete a book manuscript tentatively entitled The Embarrassment of Virtues: The Individual and the Changing Moral Landscape in Post-Mao China. The primary unit of analysis in this book is the Chinese individual, and the macro context is China’s rushed quest for modernity under a strong and authoritarian state in the era of globalization. The central question is twofold: what are the impacts of the rise of the individual on the moral landscape of China, which is known to be a collective-oriented society, and in turn what are the impacts of the changing moral landscape on the Chinese moral self? The book addresses the central question along three lines: (1) mapping the shift from a collective morality of responsibility and self-sacrifice to an individualistic morality of rights and self-realization in ethical discourse; (2) investigating the widespread public perception of moral crisis and the disturbing practices that form the factual basis for such a perception; and (3) exploring the new individualistic ethics and moral practices that have expanded the moral horizons of Chinese society.

Profile photograph by Lu Yang.

Fellows Finder

Please enter the name of a fellow, or relevant search term into the field below to search for a fellow. You can also filter by competition, year, or fellowship category.