I have been thinking about the Generation 90s beauty who would would give her chest as a pillow (献酥胸当枕头求降房价的90后美女), householding as a way of locating oneself in a larger social order, the phallic order of Chinese writing conventions, and the perverse nature of Shenzhen’s housing situation.
In Mandarin, women 出嫁 (chū jià); they marry out of one household into another. Monks and nuns 出家 (chū jiā); they leave the household. The head of a household 当家 (dàng, dāng jiā); depending on the tone, one either manages household affairs or “is the house”. The point is that to be a man is to be able to provide a home for one’s family; it is to be a family man, such that one of the signs of government legitimacy is provide housing for all one’s people. Likewise, to be a woman is to be a family woman.
At the same time, writing has been an important metaphor for the establishment of Shenzhen. This has been institutionalized as urban planning, but ideologically was figured as “drawing a circle” in “The Song of Spring (春天里的故事)”.
一九七九年那是一个春天; 有一位老人在中国的南海边画了一个圈; 神话般地崛起座座城; 奇迹般地聚起座座金山; 春雷啊唤醒了长城内外; 春辉啊暖透了大江两岸. 1979 was Spring;when an old man drew a circle in South China; city after city mythically grew up; gold mountains miraculously gathered; Spring thunder woke those in and outside the Great Wall; Spring rays warmly pierced both sides of the great river.”
This image often appears as a portrait of Deng Xiaoping holding a calligraphy brush and writing phrases that celebrate the establishment of Shenzhen. This sign of masculine potency contrasts poignantly with the images of the armless man using a calligraphy to write a plea for affordable housing on a young woman’s body. Specifically, the two protagonists display Shenzhen family relations as a site of perversion precisely because the new “normal” for most Shenzhen’s residents is shown to be prostitution and social impotence.
As a feminist, this display distresses me at many levels. First, Shenzhen’s inequitable housing situation continues to seethe. Second, this type of protest was easily and readily ridiculed — neither prostitutes nor impotent men are seen as deserving sympathy. Third, I fear that the more difficult it becomes for Shenzhen residents to realize patriarchal householding, the more likely it is that patriarchal modes of householding will become social goals, rather than a set of conventions to be challenged.