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3.2 - The Real China

Just as Chinese constructions of the Western Other influence expatriate constructions of Self, expatriate constructions of China and the Chinese Other can be seen as a mirror in which expatriate identity is also revealed.

In this section, I use interview participants' responses to the statement

"Shanghai is not the real China" to examine their attitudes towards China, and to reveal how these attitudes further influence the expatriate construc-tion of self.

In Shanghai particularly, it is easy to imagine Chinese culture as some-thing in retreat, overwhelmed by the onslaught of Western consumerism.

As Appiah has argued, though, this view drastically minimises the agency of non-Western cultural actors, as well as ignoring the multilateral nature of globalisation itself (2006, pp 101-115). China's rapid development is often framed, both in China and abroad, as a game of catch up with the West (cf. O’Sullivan 2011). In Shanghai, the pervasiveness of Western luxury brand advertising, bombarding you in taxis and following you down into the subway,39 certainly suggests a structural association between the West and success in Chinese minds. Western brands are so desirable that a brisk market for Chanel and Tiffany branded plastic shopping bags has sprung up online.40 For the Chinese consumers who buy and use them, these bags are a projection of face, an enactment of aspirational identity, representing not who the person feels they are, but rather who they want to be. As Schein has argued, acts like these enable local Chinese to have a stake in China's new imagined cosmopolitanism (1999).

39. For the metro's poorest passengers these can only be an exercise in frustrated consumer voyeurism. The average annual salary in Shanghai, for 2011-2012, was only RMB 52,655 (CER 2012) or NZ$9353. An IPad costs RMB 3688 - NZ$655 - in China (Apple China 2013), or more than three week's wages for a middle-income Shanghai resident. By contrast, an IPad in New Zealand costs NZ$729 (Apple New Zealand 2013), less than one weeks wages for a middle-income New Zealander (Statistics NZ 2015).

40. A search of Taobao, the Chinese online marketplace, for Chanel礼品袋 - Chanel gift bags in English - returned more than 200 retailers offering the bags, purchasable for between 4 and 8 RMB each, or around one NZ dollar.

Even if the bag only contains lunch,41for as long as they are carrying it the person who purchased the bag is able to look, and presumably feel as if they have just stepped out of Chanel.

Despite this process of cultural borrowing - what Appiah prefers to call

"cosmopolitan contamination" (2001, p 102) - Shanghai remains defiantly and pervasively Shanghainese. For Shanghai at least, the process of eco-nomic reform has often been framed as a return to, or renewal of, the city's

"traditional" haipai, or sea style, itself seen as embodied in cultural values of cosmopolitanism, commercialism and innovation (cf. Larmer 2010; Ma 2012; Wang et al. 2009; Wu 2004; Cheung 1996). Coined by a group of writers from Beijing towards the end of China's semi-colonial period, haipai was originally intended as a rebuke, contrasting the Westernised values of Shanghai with the traditionalism and formality of jingpai, or capital style (Wong 1996, p 31).

According to historian Marie-Claire Bergère, however, "the bourgeois mod-ernism" of Shanghai during the semi-colonial period, remained rooted in traditional kinship networks and regional loyalties, and was "thus not based on a break with tradition, but on its ability to make tradition serve new objectives" (Bergère 2009, quoted in Wong 1996, p 28). Just as it sometimes is today, semi-colonial Shanghai was also frequently character-ised as the "Other China", a liminal place, neither Chinese nor Western but embodying the values of both (Cheung 1996, p 50). Shen Hongfei, a lead-ing cultural critic in Shanghai, argues that, in fact, Shanghai has always been a cosmopolitan city. "We've always been accused of worshipping foreigners," he told National Geographic, "but taking foreign ideas and making them our own has made us the most advanced place in China"

(quoted in Larmer 2010).

Shanghai's expatriates often echoed local Chinese constructions of Shanghai, framing the experience of the city's wealthy and middle-income residents as inauthentic in comparison to the rest of China, while at the same time being typical of Shanghai. This distinction between the "real

41. A Swedish owned clothing retailer which is also popular in Shanghai.

China" and the "other China" of Shanghai, was often complicated - particu-larly for recently arrived and corporate expatriates - by stereotypical expectations of China or of Chinese culture.

Ben, a lawyer from the US with significant China experience, described his own sense of separation as primarily an economic and geographic phe-nomenon, not specific to his status as a foreigner,

Certainly in Shanghai, you have to really force yourself out of it, and there's the expat bubble in Shanghai where a number of Chinese people also exist, but even outside that there's a Shanghai bubble. You take your first tier cities, y'know, Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, that's one bubble. It's almost like a concentric circle of bubbles. In my Law Firm there's two of us who are partners and the other guy, he is now an American citizen, but he's from Chongqing. He lives over there in Jinqiao in the heart of, y'know, what I think of as the most Westernised part. His kid goes to what I think of as the most Western of the international schools. He has this house. It literally has a white picket fence around it, and he's basically recreated his suburban Chicago existence.

When we came to look at houses he said, "Oh, Ben you've got to live over here." I said to him,

"You got to understand, I got to get out there a little bit more. I want to be using Chinese." His reaction is "I've now made enough money that I can live in a place like this. Why would I not live here? Why would I not send my kid to a school where he's going to have great English and a great education?"

The concept of the expatriate bubble is examined in more detail in Chapter 5 (pp 126-155). However, Ben's statement that Shanghai represents a bubble of its own, echoes the haipai metanarrative, framing Shanghai as a special case within China, one in which his emplacement is legitimated by the co-presence of wealthy Chinese.

I met Andrew, a recently divorced former soldier, at Aussie drinks. He had come to China as a trailing spouse and was now in Shanghai hoping to find work. His ex-wife was still in Beijing and wasn't supporting his visa anymore. Attracted by the vibrancy of Shanghai's economy and the

opportunities he was sure would come with that, he'd decided that he wanted to stay on anyway. Our dialogue ranged from his experience in the wine industry to China's appetite for luxury goods, to the differences between Chinese culture and the West, to Tiananmen square and Mao-era history. "You need to get out of Shanghai," he told me during our conver-sation, "You haven't seen the real China until you've been up to Henan, or out to Anhui. It's a different world out there. Much more basic. Much more Chinese."

I often heard expatriates express this desire to find the "real China," or give advice on where in the PRC to find it. Chinese citizens from outside Shanghai also frequently displayed a parochial attachment to some part of their home province, framing this as the real China. When she found out I had not yet travelled outside the Shanghai city limit's, Apple, a student from Anhui told me, "Shanghai is not China. If you are studying China, you need to go outside the first tier cities like Shanghai. I hope one day you will visit my hometown of Lu'an. That is what China is actually like.' The fate of this "real China", and finding what remains of it have also often been a central preoccupation of the Western media's coverage of China's recent development (French 2006; Howard-Johnson 2003).

The widespread currency of perspectives like Apple's and Andrew's led me to ask some of the interview participants for their reactions to the state-ment, "Shanghai is not the real China." Most expressed qualified support or framed themselves in direct opposition to it. Only, Anais, a stay-at-home parent from France, expressed unqualified agreement with the sentiment:

But Shanghai seems to be so easy for us, it's so easy to come and to live. Everything is ready for foreigners… but I think if you move in China, perhaps to Chengdu, or Xian, or - I don't know where - it's not so easy for foreign-ers. So, for me, real China is not Shanghai because it's too easy for me. The first time I said, 'Oh it seems to be like China town in New York,' and there's more Chinese in Chinatown than in Pudong. Pudong is not Chinese. It's just a big place for foreigners. Almost a playground.

Pudong's central district is Shanghai's most populous with more than 5 million inhabitants (SPNAPG 2011), many times more than either the entire population of Manhattan (NYDCP 2013) - where New York's Chin-atown is located - or any reasonable estimate of the expatriate population of Shanghai.42 Anais' misapprehension that more Chinese people live in New York's Chinatown than in Pudong therefore, suggests a somewhat limited view of the district.

In his interview, Butler, a freelance English teacher from Canada, argued that expatriates who use the phrase "real China" are often articulating a preconceived view of what China is:

The real China meaning what? The fucking dirt and the mud and pig shit, and eating fucking meat that's been sitting on the fucking chop-ping block with flies around it while they push it away with paper fans? Is that the real China? How could Shanghai not be the real China? It's part of the China experi-ence. There's a huge section of this country that's still, yes, living in poverty and in a third world state, but the coastal cities are all first world. I think that foreigners, they come here and they say they're looking for the real China. The temples that were all destroyed during the cultural revolution and rebuilt in the 70s, y'know? I mean sure they look old but they're not. It's this ignorant sort of perception that foreigners have that they're going to go and discover the world. This isn't like the early 19th century. We're not discovering Shangri-La. All that romanticism, it's all gone now, and I think our generation have this nostalgic sense to seek out these stories that we've heard and try to discover these things. I haven't dis-covered a single new thing, essentially, since coming to China. I mean yeah things are differ-ent, you see things that you've never seen before, but ultimately there's no real authentic-ity to anything anymore.

42. Shanghai's official expatriate population in 2014 - including expatriates from non-Western countries, but excluding transient expatriates - was 171874 (SSB 2015).

More inclusive unofficial estimates range from 200,000-400,000 (cf. NatWest IPB 2012; Wong 2009).

Interestingly, although Butler derides the imagined authenticity sought by some expatriates, describing it as romanticism, his conclusion, that

"there's no real authenticity to anything anymore," suggests that he too imagines a historical - or more likely an ahistorical - "authentic" China existing prior to European colonisation. Additionally, his argument that for-eigners' expectations of China are often shaped by narratives of discovery and colonisation, echoes a great deal of the recent scholarship on tourism and leisure migration in the developing world. Echtner and Prasad describe this "myth of the unchanged" as particularly pronounced in China and other "Oriental" destinations. They argue that this metanarrative "sys-tematically portrays the destinations as firmly entrenched in a time ripe for a journey of discovery" (2003, p 669). According to Echtner and Prasad, these expectations are shaped by a shared Orientalist imaginary that promises esoteric wisdom, virgin territory, exotic people and opulent sur-roundings, echoing colonial mythologies used to justify exploration, conquest and trade (2003, p 669).

However, as the responses of Butler and a number of my other parti-cipants suggest, poverty not opulence is often central to many newly-arrived expatriates construction of the Chinese Other. Bruce, a postpat who had been in China for ten years, also described other peoples' fram-ing of "the real China" as frequently rooted in the idea of China as a third world country:

The real China is the bit of China you are in now. It's real. It's a reality. Yeah, the reality is different, depending on your geographical loca-tion but the bottom-line is the real China is this.

This is it. We're in Shanghai, this is the real China, but it's the Shanghai reality. There is another reality for other people in other parts of China. It's just a bollocks statement. The reason it rubs me up the wrong way is because a lot of people expect that the real China is some little guy in a coolie hat, digging holes in the road or riding a bicycle with a chicken hanging off the back. It's almost derogatory.

Bruce's wife Elaine argued that in addition to being a construction by expatriates of the Chinese Other - which she saw as having been drawn from literature and other sources - the "real China" was also a

manifesta-tion of white privilege. Conversely, she then went on to describe this stereotyped view as having some basis in fact for the majority of Chinese;

When I hear real China, unless that person is Chinese, I tell them to fuck off. They're never going to experience the real China because they're Western and there's no possible way for them to experience the real China. The real China, for most people, is the Chinese working in the fields, y'know, struggling day in day out - and it's mostly true. Everybody has read the statistics. Eighty percent of China are farmers and workers. So, that all being said, I enjoy when I go into the countryside but I absolutely, fundamentally understand that I'm seeing it through a Westerner's eyes. I go to a restau-rant and order food and they are back there, like, beating grandma to make sure that I get the fattest chicken. That's not really the real China, right? Even now there's a perception that China is a poor country, with poor people, not able to understand the rest of the world and then they come to Shanghai and they're like 'whoa, this is totally different from my expectations,' Even on the way to Nanjing you see what people expect to see and then they say, 'Oh well that's the real China,' but Shang-hai could not be China without the peasants in the field being China.

The statistic Elaine quotes, that only 20% of China's population are middle-class or above, was mentioned to me several times by expatriates.

Actual estimates vary, from as low as 10% (Zhang 2013) to as high as 25% (Luhby 2012). Like Butler, she implicitly locates these people outside Shanghai, in "the countryside." This division between city people and country people is also reflected in Chinese law. Only those born to par-ents, who themselves are registered as Shanghai residpar-ents, are automatically entitled to live and work in the city. Those born elsewhere must apply for a hukou, essentially an internal visa, to reside in Shanghai legitimately. However, Shanghai's massive appetite for cheap labour means that the division between city and country is no longer as sharp as it once was. Compare Marissa's reification of this divide with her

employ-ment of an Ayi43from Anhui, the largely rural home province of so many of Shanghai's Ayi that, for a number of expatriates, the two were stereotypic-ally associated.

Siebe, my roommate during my first year of fieldwork, also recognised that very few mainland Chinese are living a middle-class lifestyle, which he, Elaine, Bruce and Butler all frame as typifying Shanghai for them;

Well, let's put it this way, of course, Shanghai is the real China. I mean it's just the international window of China, which is different than if you would travel. Of course, you would see some-thing different. The same goes for the United States. I'm sure Arkansas is not the same as New York City and the same here. What people mean with real China is that you don't see the factories, and you don't see the poverty and you don't see the farmers out there because this is still the vast majority. But, um, no. China, of course, is all of that, and the fac-tories, and the poverty, and the farmers and these huge urban platforms, as Shanghai and Beijing and Guangzhou. So, for me, all of it is real China. I couldn't imagine that you would not include Tibet in China or that you would not include Mongolia or …or Shanghai. All of it is part of China and it makes what people under-stand when…when they talk about China.

Despite objecting to the phrase "real China", Harriet, a freelance writer, described what she saw as significant economic and political differences between Shanghai and the rest of China. She also recognised that in some of Shanghai's less affluent districts many of those differences became markedly less apparent.

For some reason I'm more comfortable with the statement it's not really China, y'know?

Because it's so many other things as well, and kind of always has been - as a port town, as a place of international business of various kinds, as a culture that has managed to be internatio-nal before any other part of China was, or many other parts anyway. Y'know, Shanghai has been a verb in English for many

genera-43. House Keeper. Lit. Aunty and by extension a polite term for any middle-aged women.

tions. I feel there's less influence of other cultures, ah, just about an hour away from here, in suburban Minhang, y'know? The archi-tecture is even a bit more Western than you might find in Jiangsu, Anfu. Beijing even, y'know? I feel has less Western influence in the culture. In the ideals. Also, I think a lot of people, especially international business people, both Chinese and Western, are con-stantly, confronted with the line around Shanghai and the rest of mainland. There's things you can publish here, there's things you can do legally here that you cannot do any-where else in mainland China, So I can see where that would actually be a concrete, measurable way in which it is not the real China.

In recapitulating the cosmopolitan imaginary of the haipai narrative, Harriet presents a version of the city's history which favours local cultural agency and neglects Western colonial influence. Although she presents parts of Shanghai as more authentically Chinese, she locates these sites of authenticity on city's suburban fringes.

Martin, an English teacher from the US, also identified HongKou, the dis-trict where he lived, as being more Chinese than some other parts of Shanghai.

I would say parts of Shanghai are the real China. I think HongKou is pretty akin to, like, what you might see in Chengdu or some-thing. I think a lot of the expats like to insulate themselves in Xujiahui or Jing'an. They see white people everywhere. They see every-thing's relatively clean. I think the real China is just dirty and there's more... like... country people.

For Martin the real China is signified by rurality, as embodied by Shang-hai's weidiren - or migrant labourers - and dirt. ShangShang-hai's more affluent suburbs, inhabited by both expatriates and wealthy Chinese, not to men-tion China's rising middle-class, are excluded by this definimen-tion.

Mark, a self-described serial entrepreneur who had been in China for six-teen years at the time of his interview, dismissed the idea that Shanghai was not the real China:

I suppose if you want a monolithic view of the entire country you could say that, but it's part of China, Chinese people live here, it's part of Chinese history. How can it not be? It's a real China. It's a real part of it. There may be a larger population group. Another economic level. There's still a lot of subsistence farmers here. But, they're both real parts of the coun-try. Certainly other people round the country view Shanghai as the real China because they try to emulate it, right? There's Xintiandis all over the country, and walking streets all over the country,44 and they look to the culture that comes through here. So, it's one part of China, as much as any other. It's just a smaller demo-graphic, but it's the real China.

Despite rejecting the label "real China", Mark's framing of Shanghai in opposition to a "larger population" who are on "another economic level"

clearly implies a similar division. His framing of Shanghai as an economic and cultural model, above and apart from the rest of China, also suggests such a division.

Like Mark, Faustine, a stay-at-home parent living in Pudong, described Shanghai as a role model for the rest of the country. She contrasted the city's Westernised public face, with a hidden, implicitly more Chinese, lower income population, which like Harriet, she located on the city's fringes.

For me, Shanghai could be a concentrate of China because there are some glossy parts but not far away from here you've got farmers, small villages, with only…okay, you have to search for them to find them because you don't see them. There are walls. They are hidden. So here you've got industrial parts, farmers as well as expatriate compounds, like here, super-brand mall and shopping malls, Xintiandi with the nightlife, and you've got huge markets, you've got everything all parts of China the past, the future, the today, here. You

44. Xintiandi is a well-known retail development in Shanghai, located within a historic lane-house neighbourhood. Under the pretext of rescuing the houses which remain, a number of the lane-houses were bulldozed, creating a European-style walking street. This style of development has been emulated in several other Chinese cities.