Moral imaginings of the market and the state in contemporary China

Erika Kuever*

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In contemporary China, the site of endemic food scandals and persistent anxiety about the quality and safety of products, moral imaginings of the market implicate state actors and institutions. In articulating perceived injustices, Chinese consumer‐citizens resort not to the “mutual rights and obligations” of buyers and sellers specified in the Consumer Law but to ideals of fairness that include the role of the state in regulating the market. The law defines the normative rights and obligations of consumers and sellers, but citizens largely reject this depoliticized formulation, instead expressing expectations of state action that mirror a moral economy framework. This understanding of the persistence of fake and dangerous goods as a manifestation of poor governance allows for a rereading of Marx's famous maxim. For Marx, the commodity disguises an exploitative relationship between buyers and sellers, but in societies characterized by industrial production, the state mediates interactions between producers and consumers through regulation and the law. Demands from Chinese consumer‐citizens that the state curtail the production and sale of fake and dangerous goods and punish bad actors reveal an understanding of the modern state's role in the production of the commodity. They also illustrate the importance of the historical context of the state–citizen relationship in framing moral claims.
TidsskriftEconomic Anthropology
Udgave nummer1
Sider (fra-til)98-109
StatusUdgivet - jan. 2019

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