Remaking the value of work: The emergence of grassroots philanthropy in China

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

In recent decades China has seen a rise in grassroots “philanthropy” (gongyi), or charity and volunteerism that is not directed by the state. Much of the discussion on this phenomenon suggests that it is a response to a perceived “moral crisis.” But the emergence of grassroots philanthropy is also—and perhaps more centrally—a response to people's changing valuation of work in a time of economic restructuring, especially among people who find their labor at risk of becoming surplus. This development profoundly challenges their sense of self-worth. As a result, many ordinary people—primarily men with a relatively low social standing—are engaging in philanthropy as a form of “work,” even though this work is frequently in tension with their familial obligations. In doing so, they cocreate alternative social arenas in which the value of their work may be realized. Nonetheless, the question whether doing philanthropy is proper work remains open, ambiguous, and subject to continual negotiation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)536-548
JournalAmerican Ethnologist
Issue number4
Early online date26 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • grassroots philanthropy
  • work
  • value
  • volunteerism
  • ethics
  • China


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