The Politics of Compassion: Civic Engagement in China

March 20, 2018 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm


1255 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10027

Book Talk with
Assistant Professor of Sociology
Emory University

Moderated by
Professor of Social Policy and Social Work
Director of the China Center for Social Policy
Columbia School of Social Work

Co-sponsored by
Columbia School of Social Work’s The China Center for Social Policy & Columbia University’s Weatherhead East Asian Institute.


1.0 CEU available for NYS, NJ, and CT licensed social workers. The fee is $25. If you are from a different state, please contact

About the Program

The 2008 Sichuan earthquake killed 87,000 people and left 5 million homeless. In response to the devastation, an unprecedented wave of volunteers and civic associations streamed into Sichuan to offer help.

In his book The Politics of Compassion (Stanford University Press, 2017), Emory University sociologist Bin Xu (bio) examines how civically engaged citizens acted on the ground, how they understood the meaning of their actions, and how the political climate shaped their actions and understandings.

Using extensive data from interviews, observations, and textual materials, Bin Xu shows that the large-scale civic engagement was not just a natural outpouring of compassion, but also a complex social process, both enabled and constrained by the authoritarian political context. While volunteers expressed their sympathy toward the affected people’s suffering, many avoided explicitly talking about the causes of the suffering—particularly in the case of the collapse of thousands of schools. Xu shows that this silence and apathy is explained by a general inability to discuss politically sensitive issues while living in a repressive state.

Professor Xu’s book is a powerful account of how the widespread death and suffering caused by the earthquake illuminates the moral-political dilemma faced by Chinese citizens and provides a window into the world of civic engagement in contemporary China.

About the Author

Bin Xu is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at Emory University. Bin Xu’s research interests lie at the intersection of politics and culture. He currently focuses on two lines of research. First, political and cultural sociology of civil society. His book The Politics of Compassion: The Sichuan Earthquake and Civic Engagement in China (Stanford University Press) examines how Chinese citizens participated in the rescue and relief efforts after the devastating Sichuan earthquake, how they interpreted the meanings of their act of compassion, and how the political context shaped their actions and meanings. He is currently writing a book and a few related articles on the collective memory of China’s “educated youth” (zhiqing) generation—the 17 million Chinese youth sent down to the countryside in the 1960s and 1970s. His research has appeared in leading sociological and China studies journals, including Theory&Society, Sociological Theory, Social Problems, Social Psychology Quarterly, China Quarterly, and The China Journal.

About the China Center for Social Policy

The China Center for Social Policy is a hub for innovation and action on social welfare in China. Directed by Columbia School of Social Work Professor Qin Gao, it is the first center of its kind to be founded within a U.S. school of social work and pursues a dual mission of research and education.

Event Materials

  1. PowerPoint Presentation (35 slides)


1.0 live or live on-line contact hours will be awarded for NYS-, NJ-, CA- and CT-licensed social workers. Licensed social workers for other states, please refer to your state licensing agency and/or email In order to receive your continuing education certificate, you must attend the entire workshop (in-person or via livestream). Certificates will be emailed within 30 days of the workshop. CSSW is an approved NYSED provider for continuing education contact hours and a CSWE accredited institution.

Learning Objectives

At the end of this lecture you will be able to:

  1. Explain unique moral political dilemmas faced by Chinese citizens in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

Special Accommodations and Grievance Policy

For information on special accommodations or our grievance policy, click here.

Cancellation Policy

For cancellations, credit will be provided that can be applied to future CSSW continuing education lectures, events and workshops.


About five minutes before the event, go to this link:

All registrants will receive a reminder of this link around 30 minutes before the program starts.


  1. Do not open the link in more than one window or you will hear an echo.
  2. Make sure your speaker volume is turned up.
  3. Type your questions for the speakers into the chat.
  4. Ethernet is more reliable than wifi.

Questions on Livestream?

Please contact We look forward to seeing you on livestream on Tuesday, March 20.