ideal subject positions (by the numbers)

The current stock market frenzy has people dreaming about more than free lunches. The following adverts are from Money Daddy (钱爸爸), an online trading / investment platform based in Shenzhen. Of note? In addition to the pyramid scheme promises of rapid wealth, the site address plays with both “rich daddy, poor daddy” ideology and Cantonese numerology, where the number 8 is a homophone for the character for father and can also represents the character for “get rich”.

Translations of Money Daddy advertisements show “ideal” middle class Shenzheners enjoying their high returns. The underlying anxiety point is actually quite simple: if you’re earning an honest living in any of these jobs (including an ordinary bureaucrat), you’re not earning enough for carefree spending. And carefree spending is, of course, the site where the self is being constructed as “macho”, “successful”, “loving”, “sexy”, and “independent”, respectively. Continue reading

the generation show

Currently, Shenzhen satellite tv is broadcasting “The Generation Show (年代秀),” a trivia game show based on Shenzhen’s four generations – Maoist, 80s, 90s, new millennium. Their advertising caught my eye because it speaks to how “modern life” and “urbanization” are popularly understood in Shenzhen.

The Mao era is filmed in sepia browns and shows a tractor pulling a cart with several people in it, a person peddling a bicycle, and several others walking on the road. They are being urged to go forward. The 80s clip was filmed in color and shows two youths wearing bluejeans and large sunglasses, dancing to music coming from a boombox. The 90s clip is of an architect directing construction workers to raise a piling; they are going up. Finally, the new millennium era is empty of people, just glass steel, reflecting a beam of light.

So, yes, a ruthlessly literal interpretation of the generations: Shenzhen has gone from moving forward and dancing in the streets, to building skyscrapers for nobody. Sigh.

shenzheners search for happiness…

happy endings?

The Shenzhen Civilization Office (文明办) is currently sponsoring the “Search for the Happy Person in My Life Video Contest (寻找身边快了幸福的人DV大赛)”.

At first, I was simply curious about how to interpret their posters – a canoe, floating on a dock, seperated from an idealized Shenzhen skyline by a vast expance of water. Am I supposed to understand the happy ones as those who have left the city or those who are heading toward the city? The image of Shenzhen rising fully formed from white fluffy clouds strikes me as oddly oz-like, and this has me wondering if perhaps those who don’t live in actually existing Shenzhen are the happy ones?

To assauge my curiosity, I googled 文明办 and, in addition to a national level office of civilization, I also discovered a provincial office. However, Shenzhen’s office was not online. A few more clicks and I found out that

中央文明办全名叫中央精神文明建设指导委员会办公室,是中央精神文明建设指导委员会的办事机构。而中央精神文明建设指导委员会最主要的职责就是督促检查各 地、各部门贯彻落实党的十四届六中全会精神和中央关于精神文明建设的一系列方针、政策的情况,协调解决精神文明建设主要是思想道德和文化建设方面的有关问 题。总结推广交流先进经验。深入调查研究,为中央决策提供建议。

(The full name of the Central Civilization Office is the Central Spiritual Civilization Establishment Oversight Committee Office, and is the managing agency of the Central government’s establishment of spiritual civilization. The main directive of the Central Spiritualization Establishment Oversight Committee is to  promote and supervise each region and bureau to implement the spiritual policies of the 14th meeting of the sixth plenary session and related questions of cultural construction.  In brief, to popularize and exchange avante guard experience. To conduct reseaerch into the process and provide suggestions for central policy making.)

Which begs the question: how do videos of happy people satisfy the Office’s mission?

A friend once told me that if you want to know what Chinese leaders think Chinese society lacks, all you have to do is find out what they’re currently promoting. For example, a “harmonious society” lacks harmony. By extension, a city searching for happy people would then lack happy people. Hmm…

Nevertheless, it seems wonderful to open the question of happiness to social debate. And to frame happiness as a question of spirituality? Again, yes! I’m all for making happiness part of national profiles and a condition for evaluating good government. However, instead of talking about what the conditions of happiness are and how we might extend them to more people, the videos by and large talk about how individuals are happy in their very private lives. Thus, in the videos I’ve seen, the definitions of happiness are so stereotypical (going to school, falling in love) and so individualized (family life, working hard) that its hard to see this competition as anything but more sugar-coating a decided lack of harmony chez Shenzhen.

And that’s the painfully irony: Shenzhen did begin in the dream of happiness or xiaokang, as it was once called.

More videos online at the official website.