The Value of Taste: Consumption Strategies for Social Upward Mobility among Urban Chinese Youth
Abstract: This thesis explores a group of young Western-oriented Chinese consumers called xiaozi in Shanghai, comprised mainly by young individuals from an urban lower middle-class background who attempt at adopting a lifestyle and identity marked by a taste for fine arts and foreign culture. The study shows that by means of social distinction through taste and foreign cultural practices the xiaozi youth can attempt at acquiring cultural capital for upward social mobility, to compensate for their lack of economic capital or social connections in Shanghai's society. As such, the xiaozi lifestyle can function as a vehicle for social upward mobility, but most often functions as a coping strategy to assert themselves as high quality individuals despite their lower societal status. By rearranging the quality discourse to adhere to a transnational scale of stratification along an imaginary linear path towards modernization, the xiaozi can consider themselves to be at the forefront of Chinese society and justify their higher social worth. Their questioning of traditional definitions of high quality and parental expectations and their will to create a life that takes departure in their own individual happiness is analyzed as an example of the macro-process of individualization of Chinese social relations and new class-struggles in the stratification of China's emerging market-society. The thesis is based on data collected from participatory observation and interviews with 10 young Chinese individuals in Shanghai during the spring 2015.
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