The expansion of the e-commerce economy has given individual Chinese e-traders new opportunities to generate wealth and cultural capital, and to achieve upward social mobility. But it has also created a precarious condition in which they have had to discipline themselves and adapt to a changing environment so as to ensure economic security. This paper looks at the making of a “neoliberal” subjectivity among Chinese e-traders, against the background of rising information capitalism in the country. It draws on the results of over a year’s fieldwork in the city of Yiwu, an emergent e-commercial hub in Southeast China. It investigates how the e-traders of Yiwu situate themselves in divides between the urban and the rural, or between online and offline identities. It explores their moral agency in negotiating and contesting ethics in business encounters, and their enterprising and self-disciplined measures in facing economic and social uncertainties. In so doing, it illustrates how the ongoing formation of the digital regime of accumulation speaks to the culturally specific process of subjectivization in China.
Qian Linliang is a PhD candidate at the Australian Centre on China in the World, ANU. His current research interests include social studies of information technology and new media, economic anthropology, and the anthropology of morality. He has published articles in several international journals, including China Information, Dialectical Anthropology, and Sexuality & Disability. His PhD project investigates the impact of e-commerce on people’s everyday life in a Chinese city.