Li Zhang_Private Homes Distinct Lifestyles

Li Zhang_Private Homes Distinct Lifestyles - EMERGING CLASS...

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EMERGING CLASS PRACTICES I. Private Homes, Distinct Lifestyles Performing a New Middle Class LiZhang The post-Mao economic reform has brought about unprecedented wealth and remarkable economic growth, but the income gap and social polarization have soared in this rapidly commercializing society. A small group of the newly rich-including private entrepreneurs, merchants, well-positioned government officials, and managers of large profitable corporations-is taking up an enor- mous share of the new wealth and cultivating a luxurious lifestyle beyond the reach of the majority of ordinary Chinese. At the same time, millions of rural mi- grant laborers, laid-off workers, and other disadvantaged citizens (ruoshi qunti) are struggling to make ends meet, a situation leading to widespread discontent and even public protests.! Despite such rising social problems, neoliberal prac- tices centered on the privatization of property and lifestyles are being increas- ingly naturalized and valorized in the urban public sphere. Early versions of rhis chapter were presented at the 2004 Annual Meeting of the Asian Studies Association: the workshop on "The Social, Cultural, and Political Implications of Privatization in the People's Republic of China," Shanghai, June 28-29, 2004: the Department of Anthropology and the Center for Asian Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, September 2004; the conference on "Class-sifying 'Asian Values': Culture, Morality, and the Politics of Being Middle Class in Asia" at the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Mass., November 4--6, 200S: the 23
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24 / II ZHANG One of the most important changes in China's urban landscape is the fotma- tion of a new social stratum-the "new middle-class" (xin zhongchan jieceng)- made possible by this privatization. 2 The demise of the public housing regime and the rise of the commercial real estate industry have opened up new opportu- nities for urbanites to seek differentiated lifestyles, status recognition, and cul- tural orientations. Thus, recent reconfigurations of residential space have proved vital to the formation of a new urban middle-class culture. My central argument here is that private homeownership and the increasing stratification of living space are not merely an expression of class difference or an index of status but also the very means through which class-specific subjects and a cultural milieu are being formed. Drawing from my long-term ethnographic fieldwork in the city of Kunming in southwest China, I analyze this dual cultural process of space making and class making by examining how, on the one hand, self-conscious middle-class subjects and a distinct "class milieu" (jieceng wenhua) are being cre- ated under a new regime of property ownership and living, and how, on the other hand, socioeconomic differences get spatialized and materialized through the remaking of urban communities. 3
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Li Zhang_Private Homes Distinct Lifestyles - EMERGING CLASS...

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