An ordinary China: reading 'small-town youth' for difference in a northwestern county town [article]

Anmeng Liu, University Of Canterbury
2021
China has witnessed unprecedented changes across all spheres since the 1978 economic reform. As the previous socialist state shifted towards a market- oriented economy, China's socio-spatial reconfiguration has attracted a vast amount of research interest. One emerging Chinese discourse in this socio-spatial reconfiguration is that of 'small-town youth'. This area of research connects 'small-town youth' with the complex transformations that people and places undergo. However, I identify two
more » ... r problems in such studies on post-reform China. Firstly, on-the-ground experiences of China's peripheral urban places remain largely overlooked. While both rural villages and large urban centres in China have received great attention, studies on peripheral urban places such as 'small towns' remain limited. Secondly, while a transitional perspective is often adopted by studies looking at the transformation and changes in post-reform China, many fall into the pitfall of equating transitional with teleological. This means that people and places are often positioned on a value-laden linear trajectory — changes and differences of people and places are thus closed and reduced only to reify the presumed modernist trajectory. Such an overarching framework obscures the also existing on-the-ground 'being' and 'happening' where an ordinary meaningful life can be built. This thesis goes beyond these teleological understandings of people and places in China to research a group of 'small-town youth' in a northwestern county town. I perform an active reading for difference of the mobility and life narratives of 'small-town youth' drawing on rich ethnographic details. This project identifies and challenges the underpinning logic of modernist teleology that prevails in academic and popular discourses on places and people in post-reform China. In analyzing 'small-town youth', I show how China's post-reform socio-spatial reconfiguration draws on a problematic binary of 'small town' versus 'metropolis'. I trace the roots of this prevailing d [...]
doi:10.26021/10728 fatcat:plduq544bvcjvgldky5jkvtuiq