Private homeownership has increasingly become a kind of new obsession and a symbol of upward mobility among the emerging middle class in post-Mao Chinese society. This essay studies the neoliberal making of the new Shanghai middle-class dream by exploring how this dream is invented and imagined through the pursuit of cosmopolitan citizenship, socio-spatial class distinction, and tiered lifestyles. It analyzes and problematizes the enduring charm of Shanghai as a global “city of magic” continues to attract those who aspire to eventually own a piece of property and display cultural capital of this highly unaffordable neoliberal city. Through a series of distinct case studies of recent real estate advertisement, interior design philosophy, and signature furniture stores and architecture magazines whose storytelling aesthetics are middle-class-inspired and focused, the essay critiques the way in which private homeownership is engineered, advertised, and made as one of the key prerequisites for the new Shanghainese (xin Shanghairen) to become middle class in the past two decades. It argues that the making of the new Shanghai middle-class dream is problematically preconditioned by a type of state-market promotion and advertisement of private homeownership and urban citizenship that ultimately synchronizes with the state-capitalist, neoliberal making of a moderately prosperous (xiaokang) society where class distinctions have revived to dominate the social, cultural, and economic discourses of a bourgeois Shanghai in the age of global capitalism.
Xiaokang can be translated as moderately prosperous and reasonably well-off. Xiaokang society is a term proposed by Deng Xiaoping in 1979 to describe the aspiration of building a middle-class society. The term has been used by Deng’s successors ever since and it is now integrated into Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “Four Comprehensives” as part of the “Chinese Dream” and the rejuvenation of Chinese nation. Please also see Lu Hanlong. “The Chinese middle class and xiaokang society” in Cheng Li (ed), In China’s emerging middle class: beyond economic transformation.
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