Literature Review_Zhang, Li(2008) ‘Private Homes, Distinct Lifestyles: Performing a New Middle Class’

Posted: April 25th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: creative industries, real-estate | No Comments »

In her article ‘Private homes, Distinct Lifestyles: Performing a New Middle Class’,  Li Zhang traces the ongoing formation of a new middle class in China that has a close relationship with the reform of privatizing housing in 1998 which differed from   the former state-subsidized public housing policy.

In a time that the real estate industry becomes the main drive for economic booming in China, her fieldworks in Kunming revealing the link between the privatization of real estate and class   forming  focus more on property acquisition and consumption practices that differentiated a ‘happening ‘ middle class. Although it’s a ‘happening ‘ class, Li Zhang observed that the forming middle class shared some cultures cultivated based in the living space( Garden area, Villa or high-end residential areas), such as being wealthy enough to afford  the houses in the same Xiaoqu(Neighborhoods), sharing similar consumption (high-end consumption labeled by specific brands) ,   enjoying same lifestyles(fashion,  kids education and housewives’ leisure-time) and with a strong sense of insecurity by the well-gated systems that both act for isolating the relationship with next-door neighbors and protecting  privacy.

 Does a culture of a class just cover the finance status and the sense of insecurity as it’s in Li Zhang’s study? My observations here in Ningbo might well support her concept of ‘happening’ in terms of forming a new class rather than the set material standard shared within the class. The findings in Ningbo high-end neighborhoods show that there is a tendency that some wealthy people who used to show off their labels of personal possessions are now showing more concerns on the design and cultures of the consumer goods(although they are still big brand and expensive).  Sales in the LV store found that some people begin ask for a nice good without an eye-catching big label.  This shift from showing off to emphasize quality of goods also leads another change-diversified in lifestyles. It’s no longer the time ‘the middle class ‘follows the same activities in their leisure-time/past-times as food massage, Facial treatment and Golf. Some begin to spend more time jogging in the shared gardens and some parents with little children’s unite together to organize for outing. 

Yet, it’s hard to come to a clear definition of what a ’middle class in China’ looks like at the stage. It’s definitely a process rather than a specific term.

Reference:Zhang, Li (2008) ‘Private Homes, Distinct Lifestyles: Performing a New Middle Class’, in Li Zhang and Aihwa Ong  (eds) Privatizing China: Socialism from Afar, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, pp.23-40

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