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Ten thousand things cover

Anthropology, Asian Studies

Ten Thousand Things: Nurturing Life in Contemporary Beijing

Judith Farquhar
Qicheng Zhang


352 pp

32 black and white illus.

Published: March 2012

6 x 9



ISBN: 9781935408185

Ten Thousand Things explores the many forms of life, or, in ancient Chinese parlance “the ten thousand things” that life is and is becoming, in contemporary Beijing and beyond. Coauthored by an American anthropologist and a Chinese philosopher, the book examines the myriad ways contemporary residents of Beijing understand and nurture the good life, practice the embodied arts of everyday wellbeing, and in doing so draw on cultural resources ranging from ancient metaphysics to modern media.

Farquhar and Zhang show that there are many activities that nurture life: practicing meditative martial arts among friends in a public park; jogging, swimming, and walking backward; dancing, singing, and keeping pet birds; connoisseurship of tea, wine, and food; and spiritual disciplines ranging from meditation to learning a foreign language. As ancient life-nurturing texts teach, the cultural practices that produce particular forms of life are generative in ten thousand ways: they “give birth to life and transform the transformations.”

“A wonderful paean to the marvelous miscellany of actual life.” — Dipesh Chakrabarty

This book attends to the patterns of city life, listens to homely advice on how to live, and interprets the great tradition of medicine and metaphysics. In the process, a manifold culture of the urban Chinese everyday emerges. The lives nurtured, gathered, and witnessed here are global and local, embodied and discursive, ecological and cosmic, civic and individual. The elements of any particular life — as long as it lasts, and with some skill and determination — can be gathered, centered, and harmonized with the way things spontaneously go. The result, everyone says, is pleasure.

Ten Thousand Things is a profound and sophisticated book. Students will rethink their current stereotypes about Chine; specialists will find the fine and precise interpretation of texts extremely valuable; general readers will enjoy the simple, lush prose.” — Tani Barlow, Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Professor of Asian Studies, Rice University

“The authorship of this book is unusual: an anthropologist from the United States and a historical philologist from China collaborate in Beijing on a philosophically inspired ethnography of daily life. Their work together constitutes a methodological, conceptual, and historical crossroads between their disciplines, languages, and knowledge practices. Farquhar and Zhang produce a truly cosmopolitan work: they consider how to best move across their fields of life and expertise, and dwell on the phrases, concepts, and practices they encounter in their fieldwork and in Chinese and anthropological texts.” — Marisol de la Cadena, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of California at Davis

“Part-ethnographic, part-philosophical, and informed by an acute sense of the politics and problems of translation, the text moves with elegance between the two disciplines in both their Chinese and Western forms.Ten Thousand Things is ultimately a wonderful paean to the marvelous miscellany of actual life.” — Dipesh Chakrabarty, Lawrence A. Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor, The University of Chicago