China’s New State Ideological Apparatus
China’s New State Ideological Apparatus
Shanghai’s Real Estate Market as an Example
I. A Review of China’s “Reform” in the Past 20 Years
China’s “reform,” started in late 1970s, was motivated by two major popular aspirations at the time: 1) the development of economy and raising living standards: the public wanted to be well-off as people in Hong Kong, Japan, and the United States, while the ruling authority (the Party and the government) hoped to rebuild its legitimacy and political power, severely damaged by the “Cultural Revolution,” through improving people’s level of living; and 2) cultural deregulation and political democracy: while the public, especially the intellectuals among them, yearned for spiritual freedom, some members of the ruling authority expected to save socialism by way of democracy.
The combined momentum of the two aspirations facilitated the spread of the reform in 1980s. But the discrepancies between them led the reform to the oscillation between two models—the “Eastern European Model” initiated by lessening cultural and political controls and the “Singapore Model” of capitalist economy under political autocracy. The political incident between the spring and summer of 1989 and the disintegration of the former Soviet Union in 1991 ended the oscillation. The ruling authority established the principle of “never allow the tragedy of Soviet Union to repeat in China.” It chose unmistakably the (Singapore) strategy of developing economy and “integrating” China into the “world” (i.e. the capitalist Europe and the United State) with political autocracy as its precedence. The public and the intellectual, intimidated by the high-handed measures against democratic pursuits, began to stay away from public affairs.
As the public attention increasingly shifted to and focused on individuals’ material life, as the communal goals of social and individual democracy and liberation abandoned, the two popular aspirations that set off the reform in 1970s were, therefore, forced into one contorted desire: yearning to experience freedom, liberation, and other values of life through personal economic prosperity. The social consensus on “the supremacy of individuals’ material interests” was thus formed. It set off a “reform” very different from that of the 1980s. Characterized by the continuous centralization of political power, the reinforced control of cultural activities, and the varied economic experiments ranging from government monopoly to the laisser-faire policy, this “reform” has been ongoing since mid and late 1990s till today.
II. The New Social Conditions and Ideological Needs
The new “reform” of 1990s has changed the structure of Chinese society fundamentally: foreign and private businesses constitute more than half of China’s economy; urbanization reaches 25%; new upper, middle, and low classes have cropped up simultaneously; the composition, political principle, and the social bases of the ruling authority have altered apparently; the entertainment culture of fast-food style is becoming mainstream; and the differences between the hinterland and coastal regions, between urban and rural areas are widening …
China today is entirely different from the China 20 years ago, not just in terms of economy and culture but also in terms of politics. Although it almost abandoned the socialist model of 1950s-1060s completely, it has not come much closer to the social model of the capitalist West. China, of course, cannot become Singapore either. It is slipping in a direction that existing human knowledge cannot tell whither it leads.
New conditions create new needs. The vaguer the future prospects, the more eager the society’s pursuit of material interests to keep status quo and to expend production, and the more desperate the society’s need for a new ideology to explain satisfactorily the tremendous changes in the past 20 years and to convince the public to accept them. The dated, rigid, Maoist official ideology is not up to the task; it has faded from social life since mid 1980s (except in the empty rhetoric of some official documents today). The effective construction of a new mainstream ideology has been crucial since 1990s for the reproduction of not just the culture but the whole society.
The new ideology, however, cannot be produced the way Maoist official ideology was. Dependence on some authoritative ideologue will not work because of the two-fold memories of Maoist authoritarianism and the crush of the liberal movement of the 1980s. The public has lost interest in “ideology” itself. Dependence on state apparatus will not work either because the Party’s propaganda organ and the media have long since lost their ability to control the public opinion through political sermons.
The Chinese today try to experience more and more the meaning/values of the intangible in the prosperity of personal life. The new ideology, therefore, must establish its foundation in the individual’s everyday mode of life. Since the focus of contemporary attention is on an individual’s material interests and only such interests could continuously attract the participation of the powerful (those in control of most resources and possess the largest production powers强势力量), the new ideology must lean on economic activities, or even perform some economic functions directly, i.e. create some major economic benefits, to ensure the sustained involvement of the powerful.
Last but not least, China today is still a country of centralized power; negative images have been created of its government among the populace for various reasons, historical or otherwise. The new ideology must, therefore, acquire a double function: meeting the public’s need to vent their dissatisfaction and guiding them eventually back to the beaten track of compromising with the reality and accepting the government’s control. This is to say what the society of 1990s needed is more of a social mechanism that produces the new ideology than a new mainstream ideology itself. This new social mechanism is, to borrow an Althusserian concept, a new State Ideological Apparatus.
At the experimental stage in mid 1980s and quickly taken shape in 1990s, the real estate market is such a new state ideological apparatus, satisfying all the three above-mentioned needs. Born a dual being, it is at once a special, highly ideological market and a particular, market-oriented machinery for ideology production and dissemination.
III. The Basic Components of China’s New Ideology
In my articles since 2000 I have discussed the basic components and the characteristics of the new mainstream ideology (hereafter new ideology) formulated in mainland China in mid 1990s. Here again a brief introduction.
The core of the new ideology can be summarized as conceptualization at three corresponding levels. The first is at the world level concerning the way of humanity. It consists of such accepted views as “modernization” is the shared aspiration of mankind and the only way to future; “secularization” and the desire to improve the material level of living is the basic content and motive force of “modernization;” the capitalist market is the best way to “modernization,” freedom and democracy can only be realized under the condition of capitalist market, the United States is the example of Western “modernization” to follow, etc.
At the second level are conceptions about Chinese tradition that include: the biggest obstacle toward “development” in China is the socialist system, the planned economy, and the feudal tradition; socialism means to mystify the “ideal” and the “noble” and to sacrifice the bodily for the spiritual, etc.
The third level is about the perceptions of contemporary China: the most important goal for China today is to maximize society’s wealth; “the market economy reform” is in concert with the “modernization trend;” China will soon catch up with the developed countries in the West and become prosperous and democratic as long as it stays on course; all the social problems today come from the incompleteness of “modernization” and the failure of real integration into the world (i.e. Europe and the United States); once “modernization” is realized, everybody will at least be middle class in possession of cars and houses …
It needs to be pointed out that the “new ideology” does not always sing the above fine-sounding tunes. Its low-pitched tune is composed mainly of the following two conspicuous ways of thinking: 1) “the arm is no match for the thigh—the weak cannot contend with the strong”: granted that the fine-sounding tunes could be wrong in their value judgment, but the wagon must go whither the horses draw it and there is nothing we can do; 2) “fair-to-middling mentality”: granted that the current choice is not good enough, but it’s best we can have.
There is, therefore, a supplement to all the above fine-sounding tunes. Here is an example of how it works: it is true that maximizing wealth may lead to the polarization of the rich and poor, but this is the trend pursued by everybody, we have to ride with it to take up an advantageous position for ourselves … Or: today’s reform is not satisfactory, but it is better than the mass poverty of the “Cultural Revolution” era, isn’t is? It is through this low-pitched supplement that “the new ideology” avails itself of the unpleasant memories and theoretical gaps that today’s global situation presents, effectively disperses the doubts and critiques of its find-sounding tunes, and turns them into its service.
As a mainstream ideology, “the new ideology” manifests a range of characteristics that are new in mainland China. In comparison with the Maoist official ideology, it does not have a specific theory as its acknowledged representation; it is scattered in numerous literature, images, and oral enunciations. Its core content is, therefore, conceptually unclear; its main terminology, such as “modernization” and “the international,” has only fuzzy definitions. Its dissemination, instead of through official propaganda channels, is but a concerted effort of all social constituents, including participation from commercial and cultural circles with the government’s consent.
The new ideology contains some convincing narratives about history and social reality; its critique of the past 40 years of socialism, its vent against government restrictions on freedom of speech, and its affirmation of certain aspects of today’s dynamic economy are such examples. It has formed, most importantly, a delicate relationship with Maoist ideology and its nominal successor (today’s government): its certain opposition to Maoist/official ideology masquerades it as an unofficial ideology; its concurrence with the needs of the emerging new official ideology help eliminate the confrontation with the state and gains itself opportunities for expansion. This relationship ensures the new ideology’s the double standing/function: mainstream in reality; opposition in appearance.
In summary, “the new ideology” provides, first of all, for the confused, hesitant, aimless public a set of optimistic and useful concepts, perspectives and methods to affirm and accept today’s global and Chinese realities; it then proceeds to the necessary process of development and its bright prospects to exonerate responsibilities for the evils of contemporary society. “The new ideology” has firmly and effectively maintained its mainstream standing, at least in the big and mid sized cities in the southeast coastal regions. Still in the making, “the new ideology” is in a state of flux; the Party in power is also constructing a new and more pragmatic official ideology (the theory of “from the revolutionary party to the party in office” and “the theory of three represents” are such attempts). Looking ahead, we must not take lightly the possibility of the two joining forces.
Now, let’s take a look at the relationship between the new ideology and the real estate market.
IV. The Real Estate Market and Its Ideological Features—the Shanghai Example
The land law of 1950 by the People’s Republic of China confiscated all land as state property and destroyed the real estate market completely. In mid 1980s, at Deng Xiaoping’s suggestion, the government started to revive this market with two intentions: 1) to sell government-built residences in urban areas to reduce (and eventually eliminate) the government spending on them and, as a result, to improve city residents’ living conditions—part of the authoritative effort to rebuild legitimacy; and 2) to obtain the much needed capital by turning a natural resource at the government’s disposal into a commodity for sale. With the support of the centralized government, the real estate market was quickly established. It developed the following characteristics.
First, different from the markets jointly built by private capital and political power in other centralized societies, the real estate market in China, especially in Shanghai, was established and controlled by the government. The government is not only the solely administrator but also the chief operator of this market. It not only monopolizes the lease of land but also keeps increasing its control over the first-stage processing of the land. It manages both the land and the real estate developments on the land. In its first ten years, 90% real estate built was by state-owned companies. Some private companies have now come onto the scene, but they are mostly derivatives from the state-owned companies.
Secondly, different from the markets that are in conflict with centralized socialist systems, this market has the 40 years of socialist system as its foundation of existence. If it had not been for the 1950 land law, it would have been impossible to sell land today for profits at no cost. The government would not have had the incentive to rebuild the real estate market. Such a market would have been non-existent. Because of its profits-at-no-cost feature, the real estate market in Shanghai sustained fast expansion. In 15 years, it has become one of the city’s four pillar industries; its more than 4000 newly-built high-rises parade Shanghai’s attraction for both domestic and international capital; and privately-owned residences drastically increase private property per capita and the degrees of government acceptance among the upper and middle social strata.
Thirdly, different from the markets that are restrained by the levels of local consumption, the real estate market in Shanghai has been able to impose on consumer harsh prices and rules of business from the very beginning:
1) the lease on all land is for a maximum of 70 year without any stipulation on the lease conditions afterward—all the leverage is in the hands of the government; 2) extremely high lease price for land: in the first deal made in 1988, it reaches 3500 Yuan per square meter (when monthly income per capita was less that 300 Yuan) in terms of finished living space for a term of 50 years only; 3) forced promotional measures from the municipal government: they leave many without alternative, they have to purchase commercial housing to improve their living conditions or to secure long-term residency; 4) high base points and annual price hike: in December 2004, the average annual income for a college graduate was 25,000 Yuan, whereas a regular apartment of 40 square meters in an average neighborhood cost 500,000 Yuan (including interior decoration and loan interests)—the sum of a college graduate’s entire 20-year earning; and 5) bank mortgage loans cannot exceed 15 years: February 2005 saw yet another gimmick for eligibility—no loan for purchase under 330,000 Yuan or for a residence over 20 years old.
How come Shanghai’s real estate market, under such harsh conditions, can still attract so much investment from individuals and financial groups (without which its fast expansion is impossible)? These are the main reasons: 1) in the name of building infrastructure (the subway and elevated highways etc.), the municipal government demolishes many old areas every year and drives the residents into the real estate market; 2) since the government is the market’s safety cushion and the centralized system the government’s support, the majority of consumers believe that the municipal government will do its best to sustain the high prices, at least till the year 2010 (when Shanghai will host the World’s Exposition); 3) the worship of modernization, globalization, and development, the optimistic projection of China’s, especially Shanghai’s “developed” future, and the faith in further price hikes that the comparison with the situations in Hong Kong, Taibei, and Tokyo generates, all these contribute the influx of capital from local, domestic, and international investors; and 4) society’s focus on individuals’ material life, the impact of the very rich “successful” role models, and the popularity of the new life style organized around the individual space of a residence, together induce many Shanghai residents, especially white-collar youth, to purchase housing on bank loans apparently beyond their means and needs.
The last three of the above reasons manifest, to different degrees, the working of ideology. “The new ideology,” as an integral part of Shanghai’s real estate market, not only effectively persuades consumers (and investors) to accept outrageous prices and rules of engagement but also manages to maintain the unequal relationships in the market. It induces the public to accept the monopoly of the market by seducing them with “a share of the spoils” and making them “the hostage” of the market (more on this point later). It is in this sense that this market is highly ideological.
V. Shanghai Real Estate Market as the New State Ideological Apparatus
How does this machinery of Shanghai real estate market function ideologically?
First of all, in the “reform” of 1990s, the real estate market most forcefully pushed forward the large-scale reconstruction of the urban space in Shanghai. Its major achievements in the past 15 years are: 1) drastic reduction of political spaces (plaza, auditorium, and organization offices) and industrial spaces (an ever expanding and most important space in Shanghai before 1980s); 2) the gradual diminishing of communal spaces (side roads, places of interaction in front of groceries or at the entrance of an alley, etc); 3) the increase of and the conversion to commercial spaces (chain stores and malls replacing scattered individual stores); and 4) mass development of residential spaces.
The expansion of the real estate market brings about a new combination of structures that are increasingly becoming the mainstay of Shanghai’s landscape. At its center are commercial residences, with subway station, bus stop, shopping mall, school, restaurants, fitness center, and animal hospital, etc. as its subsidiaries. With real estate companies as the chief architects of the new urban space, Shanghai has turned into a residential and consumer metropolis it had never been before—the residences and its auxiliary constructions compose most people’s basic living spaces. Although most of their activities are not carried out at home, the constructed spaces that the city provides constantly reinforce this lesson: your residence is the heart of you living space.
Such construction is in sync with what the new urban life (not just that of Shanghai) requires of its people: now is a time when demonstration is forbidden, the government no longer holds mass rallies, publics affairs need no public discussions, spare time is best spent in malls and homes; a time when all wage-earners, white collars included, are individually responsible to a boss and constantly threatened by the possibility of being replaced; and a time when one does not feel safe unless one’s door is locked and one does not feel happy or have dignity unless one is buying. Such construction is also in sync with “the new ideology’s” desired transformation of Shanghai residents: when “the new ideology” forces them to accept and enjoy the new life, the new space combinations that the real estate market constructs provides the environment facilitating the transformation.
Secondly, the advertising industry for real estate, an integral part of the real estate market, has developed, in the past 15 years, a special mode of “representation” of the above-discussed new spaces in images and words. Take, for example, the image ads (including accompanying words) for real estate—they are the most conspicuous image ads in Shanghai (and other big and mid-sized cities) by the sides of streets or highways, on TV screens, in newspapers and magazines, on the back of front seats in taxies, and on the boarding passes …
Unlike the small, narrow ad window at a real estate agency or the graphics in their poorly printed flyers, the ads at the above-mentioned places do not emphasize the details (style, size, measurements, etc) of a particular residence, which, when shown, usually takes up only a corner of the ad space. What the finely-printed images amplify is 1) the abstract values and the broader implications that the new residence stands for—its relationship to exotic flavor (that of developed counties), rich peoples’ life in Shanghai in 1930s, happy family, elegant communities, total joy of living in a modern metropolis, and the admiration from lower income stratum; and 2) the associations such powerful visual hints evoke—you will own all above once you buy the home.
These ads are very meticulous about the smoothness and balance of graphics and colors. They usually adopt an upward view/angle (especially with luxury housing) to magnify the residents’ high status. The implied message is: what the new residence represents, or in other words, what one enters into with the purchase of the new residence, are steadiness, security, solidity, trustworthiness, and long-lasting happiness. The language component, as a supplement to the images, enhances (or points out directly) what the images indicate.
These strategies constitute a new principle of image composition: construct around the residence a general picture of the world much beyond the realm of the residence, a picture that represents, not just the new home or part of a new life, but the totality effect of the new life. Images constructed under this principle exemplify a residence-centered cognitive vision towards the world.
This principle/vision has been adapted by ads for other commercial products (interior decoration, furniture, cosmetics, etc), TV dramas, window displays, and internet games etc. The common characteristics of their interfaces are 1) the disappearance of streets, plazas, factories, fields, villages etc.; 2) various partial presentations of, often interior, life world organized around a residence; 3) the marketing of a specific commodity (cosmetic, toy, car, etc.) in its total effects as an equivalent to the broader “beautiful life.”
Here emerges a representational model—focus (therefore reductive) image formation model—of Shanghai’ new living space. This model, together with its political, economic, and cultural compositions, is carrying out a large-scale construction of an image-environment that Shanghai residents find themselves in everyday. Moreover, with the help of increasing visual literacy and the prevalence of fast-food culture, the model uses the excess of new images and signs to accounts for the total spatial changes convincingly and to foster incessantly Shanghai residents’, especially the younger generation’s, cognitive response to their new living space and their understanding of its implications. It goes without saying that such elucidation and training in both the concrete and the abstract contribute to urban residents’ acceptance of “the new ideology.” A person comfortably resigned to his/her own interior visual environment and accustomed to looking at the world from his/her own window has a natural inclination for this view: the most important thing in life is a well decorated/furnished home.
The third function of Shanghai real estate market as a state ideological apparatus is at the stage of strategizing, packaging, and marketing the final product—the commercial housing. It is an all out effort from all determining factors of the real estate market that include the Ministry of Land and Resources, Shanghai Municipal Government, the local district government, the real estate company, advertising agencies, banks, etc. Together they construct and promote opinions favorable to the market in these ways: 1) exaggerating the possible growth of global and Chinese economies with their macro study of world trends and micro analysis of financial data; 2) propagating the forever regenerative capacity of technology and productive power to meet the consumer’s ever changing desire; 3) promoting globalization and the developmentalism with reaching the living standards of the capitalist Europe and America as their goals; 4) disseminating Euro-American capitalist patterns of culture and consumption of as models to follow; and 5) stressing the significance of individual material life and replace people’s concerns for other aspects of life (political democracy, social justice, the environment, etc) with its pursuit.
The construction of such opinions assumes many creative forms: statistics from the government; research reports from the government, banks, or associations of real estate agencies; speeches by government officials or representatives of real estate companies in the news media, at academic conferences, exhibitions, commercial and sports activities; and advertisements sponsored by real estate developers, etc. They use every opportunity (design, style, naming, advertisement, exhibition, etc) to emphasize, embellish, or even “fabricate” a residence’s social, historical, and aesthetic values. Claiming a building to be in the North American style, naming a residence “French Style Postmodern Garden,” and advertising a place using “Free and Modern” as the punch line are but frequent ploys. When a salesperson opens his/her lips with “constructed for the top-notches” or “humane management,” the process of selling not only puts a premium on the validity of desired opinions but also uses the desired opinions to facilitate the sales.
In the recent ten years, the real estate market in Shanghai and other similar regions shows a growing interest in the direct participation and construction of societal ideology. Besides building and selling homes, this market becomes more and more consciously involved in the production and propagation of the thoughts and conceptions of its preference, usually within the realm of “the new ideology.” When real estate developers use consciously and regularly the public desire for meaning in life as an important sale strategy, the expansion of the market becomes synchronic with the inflation of the “contorted desire” mentioned in the first section. Such inflation in turn augments society’s need for “the new ideology.”
In the end, when a deal is made at the high price equal to an average person’s total income for 15 years, the market turns the consumer into a partner who would instinctually yearn for the rising of prices, the increased value of his/her property and profit (this is what the phase “a share of the spoils” means in the previous section) and be open to all optimistic views and detest any critical opinion. In the meantime, those who bought real estate property would become the market’s “hostage” in the sense that they would make the government, which worries about the impending burst of the bubble, the damage it may do to the economy, and the political instability the reduction of property per capita may cause, not want or dare to go for any drastic means to stop the price hike after weighing the gains and losses.
This is how the real estate market turns every customer into a subject who, because of immediate personal interests, is willing to affirm and accept the currently reality and “the new ideology,” a subject who consciously and unconsciously produces and extends the social base of this market.
VI. Further Discussion
The analysis of mainstream ideology and its political, economic, and cultural conditions is an essential part of critical cultural studies. The complicated ideological situations in today’s mainland China and the peculiar characteristics of “the new ideology” pose an acute challenge to critical cultural studies: where should we start? I begin with Shanghai’s real estate market and its advertising industry because I feel strongly that the study of the construction, expansion, and function of this market is perhaps more important than the investigation of the content of “the new ideology.” It is in the construction, expansion, and function of Shanghai’s real estate market that the real “new” resides.
From the above sketchy discussion we can argue that all that has happened in Shanghai’s real estate market is but commercial activities conducted according to the logic of the market. But looking from a different perspective, we see a very unique market cultivated by the complex reality of the past 20 years. Its basic structure and operation incorporate political, ideological, and geo-economical elements that far exceed the usual realm of commercial real estate. Take the promotion of such ideology for example: family and housing are the center and the most relevant parts of individual life. The promotion played a direct role in the new round of brain-washing “campaign” in Shanghai since 1990s. When it adds values, especially abstract ones, to the physical worth of a residence (one developer has thus pronounced: “What I sell is life, the house is gift.”), can’t we say that, besides exhibiting the inflation of the “contorted desire,” the situation is also indicative of a lack of “sense” or “justification” for “modernization” at the social and personal levels and of a blind pursuit of them in the “third world” countries where “modernization” is forced upon them?
What we face seems to be such a situation of interaction: On the one hand, “the new ideology” of the 1990s not only exerted powerful influence on China’s political and cultural situations but also participated directly in the construction and the operation of certain markets. These markets (besides the real estate market, the first ones that come to mind are the stock market and the emerging mass media market) have characteristics very different from that of today’s catering market which can be understood by the free competition logic of a regular market. On the other hand, not only did the government and many emerging new cultural forces (such as the TV and the self-claimed “free” media—scholarly organizations) participate in the formation, regulation, and dissemination of “the new ideology” in the 1990s, quite a few economic and commercial powers such as real estate market and advertising industry also played a direct role in its production and promotion.
The contemplation of the economic/political/cultural reality in mainland China should lead to new definitions of such analytical categories as “the market” and “ideology,” and in so doing, embark on the road towards a new theory of the market and ideology. And more importantly, such contemplation should open our mind to new considerations of the question “Whither China,” especially when we have realized its affinity to the even bigger issues of “Whither the world (humanity)?”.
We may further argue that such market mechanisms as the real estate market and the advertising industry and the new cultural mechanisms under “the new ideology” have formed an overlapping and interpenetrating relationship of shared fate. This relationship also manifests internally between the market mechanism and the new political ruling mechanism linked by group interests. With the establishment of the political ruling mechanism in the late 1990s, politically speaking, China today is no long the socialist society it was before the 1990s. The word “internally” denotes the fact that the interpenetration between the market mechanism and the cultural mechanism operated under the directive of the new political ruling mechanism that came into being together with them.
Such three-way interpenetrating and three-in-one social mechanism shows how the political/social system of the past socialism responded to the social demand of late 1980s to mid 1990s. It is the most important outcome of the response. There are, of course, other outcomes such as the huge increase in GDP, the drastic deterioration of the environment, etc. To the question of “Whither China,” the formation of the above mechanism is of paramount importance.
The future of mainland China, in the absence of large-scale war, will be determined by the direction in which China’s big and mid sized cities are going, for they possess the most capital, the political power, the cultural resources, and the concentrated populations with the highest percentage having a college education. Mid income stratum are the key components of these cities because of their number, diversity, possession of social resources, and the exploitation and suppression of various degrees on them from the existing social order. Although low income stratum suffers more oppression, its composition (low-wage earners, the unemployed, migrant workers, the retired, high school and vocational school graduates who cannot find a job, etc) shows that the social resources are almost completely taken from them (without a union to fight for their interests, without money, with little education, without the identification of self-worth, etc) and their power to question and resist is possibly much weaker that that of the mid income stratum.
If this is the case, the three-in-one social control mechanism can exert tremendous power over “Whither China” because through the following two major channels this new mechanism is exercising increasingly profound control over the self image and emotional orientation of the mid income stratum. First and foremost, it makes people of this social stratum believe that they are the major beneficiaries of past 15 years of reform by transforming their daily life totally—the way they eat, dress, live, and travel, their education and entertainment etc. In so doing, it conditions them, by way of personal gains and habits of life, to be susceptive to the status quo and to be afraid of any revolutionary challenge against it. The above discussion on the operation of Shanghai’s real estate market as the state ideological apparatus clearly illustrates the new mechanism’s progressive control over this social stratum.
Secondly, it develops a social expression mechanism to swap conflicts so as to confuse people’s experience of severe social conflicts/contradictions in the mid income stratum. By obscuring their intense social dissatisfaction as the ruled with the articulation of such dissatisfaction as expressions of conflicts among the ruling, the new social expression mechanism dissolves the resistance impulse of the mid income stratum.
Let’s still use Shanghai’s real estate market as an example. The composition of the ruling class has been undergoing changes since 1990s. Its reflection in this market is the Municipal Government’s slipping away from its absolute controlling position to “limited control” position. Conflicts arise between the government that emphasizes long-term interests and local bureaucrats and new capitalists who emphasize personal or group interests. These conflicts, however, become the contradiction between “the will of the higher-ups/the tradition of planned economy” and “economic laws/market democracy,” the contradiction between “stability” and “development” in the highly unified media. All the problems with the real estate market are but expressions of this contradiction at the social level of (central-planned, unified) public articulation. The social expression mechanism covers up or pushes aside the real, profound social and economic contradictions (between non-property owners, regular property owners—many mid income residents among them—and the rules of the game, the powerful beneficiaries from the game) and puts up, instead, the facade of internal contradictions and compromises among the powerful in front of our eyes.
Using the social expression mechanism to swap contradictions so as to obscure, conceal, diffuse the real wide-spread social conflicts is a common practice in mainland China today (a relatively small yet representative case is the so-called abortion of “the football revolution”). Unless such use (not limited to the above-discussed two aspects) is exposed, through mid income stratum’s search and reflection, unless this social stratum unleashes its great potentials to question and to confront reality, unless it is willing to blaze new ways, China’s response to the grim “whither” question will probably still be very disappointing. This is, in my opinion, the pressing contemporary significance of examining “the new ideology” and its operating mechanisms.
Translated by Aili Mu