poverty isn’t a sign of moral depravity…

…or incompetence or sexual deficiency (if male) or too much testosterone (if female). And yet. The city’s ideology continues to promote masculinity and personhood as signs of the moral and deserving self, rather than effects of a class system that remains predicated on rural-urban divisions. Indeed, Shenzhen illustrates that even when rural people have become part of the urban prolitariate they can be ruralized with respect to the city’s more urbane classes.

Why the rant? Yesterday on the subway, I saw the following real estate advertisement that was aimed at people making the commute who dreamed of commuting between a house and their place of work, rather than commuting between a rental and their work place. Here’s the text:

In 2007, I first arrived in Shenzhen, with success or failure just ahead of me. In 2008, I wanted to sleep in, but I worked instead of sleeping and forgot to eat to complete my responsibilities. In 2011, I knew what I was doing, but still thought about leaving. In 2012, I got married and my carreer was established, I finally bought my first small house. In 2013, I received my wife’s first ultrasound and my happiness knew no limits. In 2014, the pressures of paying of a mortgage and a car loan made it necessary to work even harder. In 2016, I received my wife’s second ultrasound, and our home was complete with a son and daughter. In 2017, I received the proof of purchase of a house at Lushan Estates, everything was in my hands. [2007 初到深圳,成功亦或失败都大步向前。2008 起早贪黑,废寝忘食赶任务。2011工作得心应手,可迟疑许久还是离开。2012 结婚置业,终于有了第一套小房子。2013 第一次收到妻子的B超单,喜从无降。2014 深受房贷,车贷之压,只好越来越拼。2016 再一次收到妻子的B超单,儿女双全。2017 收到万科麓山认购书,一切握在手中。]

Here’s the thing: the implied subject of Vanke’s advertising campaign is the deserving male migrant–the one who comes and becomes a Shenzhener. After all, if you come and leave (as implied by the text), you never really wanted to be a Shenzhener anyway. The fact that most subway lines are covered in real estate advertisements suggests the extent to which the ongoing construction of the (city’s incredibly efficient) subway system has facilitated the replacement of urban villages with middle class housing estates that few can afford.

Years ago, in Path Breaking: Constructing Gendered Nationalism in the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone I wrote about the Shenzhen dream of a Shenzhen hukou, a good job, and a family. At the time, having a good job implied being able to afford a home because the system was still “socialist.” There were three statuses of housing–welfare (福利), subsidized (微利), and commercial (商品). By definition, a “good” job either came with housing (state employees who paid the cost of building the house), subsidized housing (employees of state-owned enterprises who paid cost plus a fixed profit), or provided enough income to purchase a house (entrepreneurs who paid going rates). In 1995, most in Shenzhen assumed that someone with a “good” job could purchase a house within ten years and good jobs could be found within both the formal and informal sectors of the economy. Most also assumed that “that someone” was a young man looking to take a wife and raise a family.

All this to say that the dream hasn’t changed, but that its gotten harder to realize and in doing so made more explicit the brutal division of people into deserving poor (who can change their situation) and the underserving poor (who never arrive).

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