Politics of indifference: Mourning Wang Yue in late-socialist China

Chun-Yi Sum


  • This article examines the changing sociological meaning of indifference in urban China after the tragic death of a two-year-old girl in a road accident in 2011. My analysis suggests that, in China where the political state had tried to claim credit for all altruistic behaviors, anxiety about indifference allowed citizens to sidestep socialist ethics in conversations about civic mobilization. University students used the language of feeling and mourning to reinvent the protagonist, culprit, and victim in the accident, thereby developing new rationales for committing good deeds without acknowledging the moral leadership of the state. As opposed to the standard association of indifference with civic disengagement and social disintegration, this article suggests that indifference has civic potential to connect. Like skepticism, cynicism, and disappointment that people might develop in response to the genre of socialist heroism, indifference could anchor civic articulation of alternative futures that were yet to take shape.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/717569