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Date and venue:

April 7 (Friday) | 16:30-18:00 JST

Hybrid: In-person at Waseda University and Online via Zoom (Registration Required)

Room 711, Building 19, Waseda University



Dr. Xiang Biao (Max Planck Institute for Ethnological Research)

Xiang Biao studied sociology at Beijing University, China, and received his PhD in social anthropology from the University of Oxford, UK. He worked at Oxford from 2004. Xiang is the winner of the 2008 Anthony Leeds Prize for his book Global Bodyshopping and the 2012 William L. Holland Prize for his article ‘Predatory Princes’. His 2000 Chinese book 跨越边界的社区 (published in English as Transcending Boundaries, 2005) was reprinted in 2018 as a contemporary classic. His work has been translated into Japanese, French, Korean, Spanish, and Italian. Since September 2021, Biao Xiang heads the department "Anthropology of Economic Experimentation" at the Max Planck Institute for Ethnological Research.


Any society, particularly in the domain of education, needs to differentiate members (students) in order to select the suitable candidates for particular positions. Method of differentiation has profound consequences, including the widespread mental stress that young people face in China, Japan, and other parts of the world today. In this conversation participants are invited to share their personal experiences and observations about this phenomenon. Xiang will start the conversation by providing a brief history of examination in China. In the modern times, interpersonal competition based on performance replaced selection based on virtue as the main method of differentiation. Furthermore, since the 1990s, competition became such a dominant mode of organizing education as well as other domains of social life that many young people constantly and compulsively compare self to others. Comparisonism is different from competition because comparisonism is often about the incomparable—for instance one works exceedingly hard to outperform a classmate who has richer parents in a maths exam. Such comparisons became widespread as this is how people establish the sense of self, thus “existential comparisonism”. In this process, horizontal interpersonal solidarity breakdown in the favour of individuals’ (over)identification to an abstract, totalizing evaluation system. Young people in Japan may face similar pressure and breakdown in social relations as their Chinese counterparts, but they do not appear to experience existential comparisonism. Instead, they seem to be pressured to compete and to conform at the same time. Is this impression fair? What larger insights can we draw from the comparison?

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