Shenzhen entrepreneurs enjoy big openings and Tuesday afternoon, I participated in the grand opening of Iris, a coffee shop located in the Hongxiang building, just off Hongling Road. I thought I had been invited to show my support for the owner’s new enterprise, but in fact had been invited as a special guest. Caveat: I’m not Hollywood red-carpet famous, but Shenzhen cultural circles somewhat well-known and happened to be free on Tuesday afternoon famous. Apparently, this friend of a friend of a friend is using cultural taste to brand the experience of drinking coffee there and all of the special guests were in some way related to cultural production in Shenzhen, especially writing and music.
Others have noted China’s growing coffee consumption, especially Starbuck’s forward march. Lena Henningsen (2011) analyzes how coffee shops have enabled the performance and realization of literary taste and romantic desires. Of comparative note, Su, Chiou, and Chang (2006) provide case study examples of how Taiwanese desire for or adoration of Western culture has infused the rapid growth of coffee consumption, especially Starbucks, on the island. Not unsurprisingly, a Baidu search for 咖啡文化 brings up all sorts of examples of European coffee culture, sophisticated romance, and stories of self-realization through hanging out in coffee shops.
Point du jour is that in Shenzhen going to a coffee shop is a highly gendered performance of sublimated desires and cultural yearning, a point which came home with uncomfortable force when I was “jokingly” introduced as the girlfriend of one of the other guests. Iris and other coffee shops do not simply provide a stage on which to show off one’s cultural pretensions, but also on which to perform commodified femininity. Consequently, I was uncomfortably self conscious that I drank coffee, ate cookies, and admired the holographic photographs as a model of American qizhi (气质), which is usually translated as temperament and when used to compliment a woman refers to her grace and charm. Sadly, Iris’ unspoken expectation for feminine beauty was enough to make me homesick for the commodified hipness of Starbuck’s.
Pictures from the coffee shop opening, below.