Lei Ping

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Social Class Re-stratification through Neighborhood Gentrification: Post-Mao Shanghai as a Case Study

Gentrification has played a critical role in China’s urbanization and privatization during the post-Mao era. As a borrowed term, gentrification (shen shi hua) is often seen as taking the form of large-scale housing redevelopment in urban China. The process of gentrification parallels with massive state-engineered violent demolition and forced relation process (chaiqian) in Chinese cities in the past two decades.

This paper studies how the notion of “gentry” (shen shi, or gentleman) is linked to gentrification in the Chinese context and played into social class-making, as well as how gentrification is problematically achieved through state-sponsored and state-led neoliberal capitalist practices.

Focusing on Shanghai – City of Magic (modu) and “Paris of the East” (dong fang ba li), the paper examines how Shanghai as one of China’s megacities participates in gentrification that results in wealth disparity and social inequality. Through case studies of the ways in which three historic districts (qu) Xuhui, Huangpu, and Luwan are gentrified in the name of the nation’s strengthened “socialist market reforms with Chinese characteristics,” the paper analyzes and critiques China’s ongoing urban revolution that propagates a middle-class xiaokang society that is fundamentally unaffordable, unjust, and unsustainable. It argues that under the guise of “gentrifying” the everyday life of the ordinary people, the Chinese state seeks to reclaim political legitimacy by building a collective “Chinese Dream” that ironically promotes bourgeois lifestyle, commodity fetishism, and pronouncement of social class distinctions.

Lei Ping is Assistant Professor of China Studies at The New School. She is also Coordinator of Chinese Studies and Korean Studies and Faculty Advisor at India China Institute. She received her Ph.D. in East Asian Studies from New York University (NYU). Her research interests emphasize on Marxism, urbanism, cultural sociology, and social classes in Asian and global economies and societies. Her writings have appeared in leading peer-reviewed academic journals such as Journal of Asian Studies, Journal of Chinese Architecture and Urbanism, Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, China Review International, NewBooks Asia. She also serves on the editorial boards of Journal of Chinese Architecture and Urbanism as well as Journal of Urban Studies and Public Administration. Her recent writings examine socialist remolding of the Shanghai national bourgeoisie and everyday life in the Mao era, as well as the middle classes in Shanghai and New Delhi. In 2020, her University Lecture course ULEC "China Today: Art, Economy, and Politics” is selected and honored as one of the few Online Signature Courses as part of the university’s commitment to innovate in the online teaching and learning space.


School of Global Studies, Thammasat University