For ordinary people in late-socialist China, the good life seems to be singularly shaped: in the future and the elsewhere, it is oriented toward one's own well-being and the well-being of future generations. This article aims to open up discussion about the different possibilities that ordinary people have for shaping a good life, despite and within the restrictions caused by their limited possession of power or wealth. The exploration draws from my long-term ethnographic fieldwork on caogen gongyi 草根公益 (grassroots philanthropy) in southeast China. It shows that care for the well-being of people beyond one's immediate family in the form of organized charity and volunteerism offers opportunities for many ordinary people with limited resources to engage socially and politically in ways that are central to their experience of the good life in contemporary China. Unlike the better-off philanthropists and volunteers, whose philanthropic activities tend to enhance their status and dominance, the ordinary people presented in this article experience major tensions between providing for their family and caring for others in society, between ensuring the material conditions of the good life and being able to live an ethical life as a contributing member of society and to be socially recognized for doing so. Hence pursuing the good life can require extremely hard work and be emotionally draining for many ordinary people. Philanthropic engagement does not lead to substantial and sustainable material returns, yet the creative imaginations and public actions of ordinary people open up possibilities for valorizing life in social arenas, despite and within the prevailing economic valorization of life.

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