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Lies That Bind

Chinese Truth, Other Truths

Susan D. Blum

This provocative book explores the ideology of truth and deception in China, offering a nuanced perspective on social interaction in different cultural settings. Drawing on decades of fieldwork in China, Susan D. Blum offers an authoritative examination of rules, expectations, and beliefs regarding lying and honesty in society. Blum points to a propensity for deception in Chinese public interactions in situations where people in the United States would expect truthfulness, yet argues that lying is evaluated within Chinese society by moral standards different from those of Americans. Chinese, for example, might emphasize the consequences of speech, Americans the absolute truthfulness. Blum considers the longstanding values that led to this style of interaction, as well as more recent factors, such as the government's control over expression. But Chinese society is not alone in the practice of such customs. The author observes that many Americans also excel in manipulation of language, yet find a simultaneous moral absolutism opposed to lying in any form. She also considers other traditions, including Japanese and Jewish, that struggle to control the boundaries of lying, balancing human needs with moral values in contrasting ways. Deception and lying, the book concludes, are distinctively cultural yet universal—inseparable from what it is to be a human being equipped with language in all its subtlety. « less more »
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 242Size: 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
978-0-7425-5404-7 • Hardback • January 2007 • $89.00 • (£60.00)
978-0-7425-5405-4 • Paperback • January 2007 • $37.00 • (£24.95)
978-1-4616-3885-8 • eBook • January 2007 • $35.00 • (£23.95)
Susan D. Blum is associate professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame.
Part I: Deception and Truth
Chapter 1: Truth, Lying, and Deception: Blum's Maxims for China
Part II: China Present
Chapter 2: Tricks and Traps: Deception and Protective Cleverness
Chapter 3: For Their Own Good: Benevolent Deception and Flattery
Chapter 4: State Secrets and Fakes: The True, the Real, the Transparent, and the Squelched
Chapter 5: Longing for Honesty
Part III: China Past
Chapter 6: Crooked and Straight: Right Action and Strategy in Premodern China
Chapter 7: A Social Theory of Truth: Language in Revolutionary China
Part IV: Humanity and Language
Chapter 8: Truth and Deception across Time and Space
Chapter 9: Knowing How to Play with Words and Minds
Appendix: Theoretical Foundations and Implications
Blum's charming and thoughtful Lies That Bind [takes] up the challenge to explain differences in behavior without saying that Chinese are just peculiar. Blum studies the expectations and beliefs regarding lying and honesty not only in China but everywhere.

Lies That Bind is an insightful book, which explores the complex ideology of truth, lies and deception in China and beyond. . . . Overall, this is a very enjoyable book to read, and could be used in courses on reality and fiction in Chinese literature, society and history.
The China Journal

Charming and thoughtful.

A fascinating book that takes a comparative look at the social meanings and implications of various kinds of truths and untruths in China. . . . Blum's arguments are convincingly illustrated with a plethora of rich, insightful examples. . . . Lies That Bind is a groundbreaking book that should be of interest to anyone interested in Chinese culture, sociolinguistics, or the nature of human discourse. It is also well-written, engaging, and very enjoyable to read.
American Ethnologist

Kant claimed that lying was always immoral. George Washington, according to Parson Weems (who may not have been telling the truth), said, 'I cannot tell a lie.' Jesus of Nazareth promised that 'Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.' What happens when this primordial moral value (often skirted in real everyday practice, of course) encounters a different set of cultural precepts? With acute observation, wit, and subtle comparisons, Susan Blum explores the difficult zone between what is and what ought to be in journeys across ambiguous cultural territory. Lies That Bind records the 'experiments with truth' that make up the anthropologist's education.
Haun Saussy, Yale University