The deepening of economic reform has brought about social transformation to contemporary China. Not only have we seen the emergence of the middle class, there also witnessed the formation of a new way of life characterized by affluence as well as an emphasis on privacy and choice. Given the fact that this newly formed middle class in contemporary China is a first-generation middle class, its composition is necessarily pluralistic, with many of its members coming from different origins. What pulls this emerging middle class together is not a homogenous mobility experience but its gradual adoption of a middle class way of life. Based upon an ethnographic study of a middle class residential community in Beijing, this paper is an attempt to describe the major characteristics of this middle class way of life. It will be shown that the middle class is quick to acquire a sense of ownership and its rights. While it is quite true to say that such ownership consciousness would become an inspiration of rightful resistance, it is important to note that it also constitutes the social basis upon which a new kind of moral order is forming. The focus of this paper will be placed on the construction of this moral order in a middle class residential community. A crucial component of this moral order is the negotiation of the boundary between public and private. Such negotiation involves mutual respect and the acceptance of shared norms and expectations. Very often conflicts are kept to the minimum, if not avoided. The residents of the community are learning to express themselves freely as well as to accommodate differences. They do have expectations of how their neighbours should behave. Yet at the same time, they know they cannot interfere with individuals’ choices and preferences in their private domain. This ethnographic study of a middle class community is an attempt to look at the residents’ everyday life and to examine middle class micro-politics. From how they discuss pet keeping to the way they expect of their neighbours to behave within the community, we shall see how the emerging middle class in contemporary China is forming a lifestyle and a moral order in their community.
Prof. Tai Lok Lui is Professor at the Department of Sociology at the University of Hong Kong. He received a DPhil in Sociology from the University of Oxford. Dr Lui’s research interests are class analysis, economic sociology, urban sociology, and Hong Kong society. He is a regular columnist in local newspapers and occasionally a radio programme host. He is the co-author of Hong Kong: Becoming a Chinese Global City (London: Routledge, 2009).
This seminar is part of the World Universities Network Contemporary China Center Virtual Seminars programme. This year’s series will focus on social development and political reform from economic, ethnic and ecological perspectives with a focus on issues of fairness and equality. The series allows audiences around the world to hear from leading scholars in Contemporary China studies and to engage in dialogue with one another across geographic boundaries. Each seminar includes an interactive question and answer session across all sites.
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