Tattling with Chinese Characteristics

Xu, Jing. Tattling (Gaozhuang) with Chinese Characteristics: Norm Sensitivity, Moral Anxiety, and the “Genuine Child”. Ethos 48(1): 29-49. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/etho.12262

Based on twelve months of ethnographic fieldwork in Shanghai, this article examines Chinese preschool children’s tattling behavior as well as educators’ interpretations of it. Tattling is defined as the re- porting to an authority figure of other children’s counternormative behavior. My research revealed distinctive characteristics of tattling in the Chinese context: the popularity of third-party (bystander) instead of second-party (victim) tattling, the entanglement between tattling and pleasing authority, and adults’ moralistic concerns about tattlers’ motivations and character, encapsulated in the discourse of “the genuine child.” I further contextualized adults’ concerns in widespread moral anxiety in a changing Chinese society and connected them to historical notions of childhood and morality. Taken together, these findings illuminate cultural influences on children’s everyday sociomoral life in light of the continuities and changes of Chinese conceptualizations of “the child.” This article facilitates conversations between anthropology and psychology and demonstrates valuable linkages between psychological anthropology and Chinese studies. [tattling, morality, childhood, anxiety, China]

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