Huang Tsung-yi Michelle, Department of Geography, National Taiwan University and Department of Cultural and Religious Studies, CUHK
Professor Huang received her BA and MA from the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at NTU and then completed her PhD in Comparative Literature at SUNY Stony Brook. Her research interests include biopolitics and cultural governance, emerging social subjects, cultural identity, social/cultural text and discourse analysis. She has been working on the radically transformed morphology of the East Asia metropolises in response to capital globalisation. Her recent research includes two main focuses: a critical examination of the cultural governance mobilised by developmentalism and the cultural politics of representing cross-border subjects in south China and Taiwan. Her publications include Walking Between Slums and Skyscrapers: Illusions of Open Space in Hong Kong, Tokyo and Shanghai (HK: Hong Kong University Press, 2009), 《面對巨變中的東亞景觀：大都會的自我身份書寫》(臺北: 群學出版社, 2008; 北京: 廣西師範大學, 2011), along with other works on cinema, literature, cultural studies and global cities published in various journals.
Professor Huang has been engaged with Shanghai as a global city for a decade. Her previous theorisation of the cultural, economic, and political changes in Shanghai is exhibited in her book chapters and three journal articles, which include "The Production of Urban Spaces: Shanghai as a Global City in the Making" (2004, in Chinese), "Self-Fashioning of a Global City: The Politics of Shanghai Nostalgia" (2005, in Chinese), and "The Cosmopolitan Imaginary of Global City-Regions: Articulating New Cultural Identities in Taipei and Shanghai"(2007, in Chinese). In recent years, Professor Huang discovered Guo Jingming's best-selling trilogy Tiny Times, which includes stories of the "new Shanghai" as China's most prominent global city and "new Shanghainese" as an entitled middle-class self-image. Thus, in her current project, she explores the urban writings of Guo Jingming with her MPhil student Dong Muzi.
Professor Huang noted that China's unprecedented mega-urbanisation project and economic development since the reform era is a necessary context for understanding Guo's representation of Shanghai. Three trends of urbanisation, including cities going global, intracity competition and the disappearance of counties (縣) indicate that the socialist anti-urbanism policy has reversed direction. Professor Huang pointed out that counties, the most stable institution in the history of the Chinese government, were changed to districts of cities or reclassified as county-level cities (撤縣改市) in the 1980s and 1990s (Cartier 2013). Cities found themselves in a competitive city-ranking system and challenged to create urban glamour zones in the image of Manhattan, as showcased by Shenzhen in the 1980s and Pudong of Shanghai in the 1990s. The numerous ways of hierarchising cites affect people's hierarchies of desirable cities for their social mobility (Hoffman 2001, 2010). Professor Huang pointed out that the ideal urban subject for the new generation is the cosmopolitan, neo-liberal, entrepreneurial self, and the image of self-made successful people (成功人士) in the 1990s has been gradually replaced by the much-talked-about rich second generation (富二代).
Professor Huang noted that Guo Jingming's transformation as a small-towner from Sichuan into a best-selling writer and national celebrity in global Shanghai is comparatively uncommon, but the successful upward trajectory he achieved from nowhere to a metropolis is highly representative. According to Professor Huang, Guo's immensely popular Shanghai stories deserve serious attention because they reconstruct the imagery of "new Shanghai" by responding to the collective desire for new identities and class mobility in contemporary China. Professor Huang sketched out Guo's trilogy and the skepticism and the explosive controversy it provoked. In telling four "Shanghai native" girls' urban romances from 2008 to 2011 – when Shanghai was experiencing rapid economic growth – Guo has stated that Tiny Times is a "golden hymn dedicated to Shanghai" and reveals his grand ambition with the stories: "I hope people will think of my Tiny Times when they talk about the new Shanghai in the future." Quoting from critics such as Huang Ping and Han Han, Professor Huang pointed out that Guo's legitimacy of writing about Shanghai has been bitterly challenged and that his trilogy has been considered a fake Shanghai story that lacks the authentic "Shanghai spirit" written by a small-towner pretending to be a native Shanghainese and touting "a tutorial of the glamour and luxury of Shanghai" to other "small-town youth" from urban-rural fringe areas (Han Han).
According to Professor Huang, the implications of the New Shanghainese identity are the crux of the matter. In Guo's writings, the idealised images of the new Shanghai are based on his self-made immigrant experience. Interestingly and paradoxically, this New Shanghainese always assumes the role of a native rather than a stranger from a faraway small town. As Professor Huang pointed out, it is important to contextualise the term "New Shanghainese", which gained its popularity in the official discourse around 2000 concomitant with the new image of Shanghai as China's global city, as it refers to the expanding new class, particularly the transnational and professional managerial class from the outside. Professor Huang showed clearly how Tiny Times represents the emerging entitled middle-class self and particular class relations in Shanghai by text analysis.
Professor Huang found that the distinguishing feature of Guo's Shanghai representation is the contradiction between noisy and tasteless tourists with the tasteful middle-class Shanghainese. On the one hand, Guo's writing reveals that "New Shanghai" is the spirit of hospitality and cosmopolitanism, welcoming people from everywhere and any class, by juxtaposition of "the crystal hollow-cutting Jimmy Choo high-heels that any woman would trade her soul for" and "the green Liberation rain boots that remind us of the good-old-labour days" (2014) in the public space. On the other hand, Guo heavily stresses that the outsiders and the underclass can easily be identified by their taste even if they share the same urban space with those who wear Jimmy Choo. Identifying the tasteless lower-class non-locals is one of the persistent themes of the trilogy: "They wear the same kind of cheap clothes from large chain-stores and yell out-loud, 'Here! Here!' The luxury world across the street is only twenty metres away" (2013). Professor Huang pointed out that Guo's narrative implies that the subtle, well-groomed aesthetics of the professional class are the hinge of becoming a new Shanghainese who can blend in perfectly into the urban glamour zone and become compatible with Shanghai's metropolitan landscape.
Professor Huang noted that Guo's recurrent theme of identifying the image of authentic Shanghainese in terms of their differences from the lower class renders Tiny Times a guidebook to the urban life of contemporary China similar to a manners manual of the nineteenth century, which not only informs latecomers to the city about how to be respectable urbanites but also provides the knowledge to spot newly arrived imposters by identifying their cultural incompleteness (Skeggs 2004).
Professor Huang pointed out that from possessive individuals to the aestheticisation of self, class as both cultural taste and social hierarchy has played a dominant role in the construction of the ideal self in Tiny Times. She took the Chinese reception of Peter Fussel's book Class: A Guide Through the American Status System in the late 1990s as a further example. The book was translated as《格調：社會等級與生活品味》, with a preface entitled "Distinction: The Last Resort to Improve One's Social Status" (格調：社會等級的最後出路) by the translator. It quickly became a popular topic of discussion after publication and a longtime bestseller. Professor Huang noted that the word "格調"(distinction) has become a new form of narrative and rhetoric of class (階級) in contemporary China. The urban middle class entitle themselves by the display of "good taste", conspicuous consumption and the aestheticisation of everyday life, as exhibited in Guo's Tiny Times. By naming many luxury brand names, such as Prada, Dior, Armani, Cartier and so on, Tiny Times dramatises Bourdieu's seminal account of tastes to represent social distinctions. Professor Huang takes the novel character Gu Li, a girl of the rich second generation, as an example for further illustration. Guo Jingming uses Gu Li to identify and mock the newly arrived as tasteless by her sarcasm on "qiuku" (秋褲) and in her words to brag about the author's newly found fame, wealth and distinction in Shanghai.
Professor Huang further pointed out that the paradox of Guo Jingming's representation of Shanghai lies in the transformation from small-towner to Shanghainese. Despite the discourse on a rising elite class in the global city, as mentioned above, the identity of New Shanghainese lately used in media and internet carries derogatory connotations, usually referring to newcomers of both high and low social ranks alike, regardless of whether they have acquired houkou, as predators of Shanghai's resources. Here, the "new" points to some essential lack based on the symbolic capital between locals and outsiders. To some extent, Guo himself has endured harsh allegations of being an imposter by native Shanghai critics and readers just as the country bumpkins he identifies in his Shanghai stories. No matter how successful Guo is, the spectre of the small town still haunts him, and his identity as a spokesperson for his beloved city and the image of Shanghai/Shanghainese in Tiny Times have been discredited by the public. In her conclusion, Professor Huang reaffirms that Guo Jingming and his Tiny Times offer an important image of the entitled middle-class self achieved by social mobility in Chinese global cities.