In spite of the intense preoccupation with individual and self in modern Western thought, the social sciences have tended to focus on groups and collectives and downplay (even disregard) the individual. This implicit view has also colored the study of social life in China, where both Confucian ethics and Communist policies have shaped collective structures with little room for individual agency and choice.
What is actually happening, however, is a growing individualization of China – not only changing perceptions of the individual but also rising expectations for individual freedom, choice, and individuality. The individual has also become a basic social category in China, and a development has begun that permeates all areas of social, economic, and political life. How this process evolves in a state and society lacking two of the defining characteristics of European individualization—a culturally embedded democracy and a welfare system – is one of the questions that the volume explores.
A strength of this volume is that its authors succeed in depicting the individualization process in conceptually acute and empirically sensitive terms, and as something with its own distinctively Chinese profile. That makes this book a "must read" for all those wanting to understand present-day Chinese society, with all of its ambivalences, contingencies and contradictions. Moreover, the volume makes an essential contribution to the current debate in sociology about how the meaning of "modernity" should be conceptualized and redefined from a cosmopolitan perspective.