Capitalism from Afar and Neoliberal Subject: An Audience Research of Woju

Iam Chong IP

Research output: Other Conference ContributionsConference Paper (other)Other Conference Paperpeer-review


Since the early 1990s, social unrest has spawned in regional cities, small towns and rural villages along with the breathless pace of market reforms, predatory nature of local cadres and continuity of the authoritarian state. However the university students and graduates, mostly inhabiting in and flooding to central cities, remain politically calm compared to their counterparts who led a nationwide protest in 1989. While political crackdown and tight control since the 1990s might nip in the bud of student movement, the urban educated youth’s conformity to the state­led process of neoliberalization is yet to be explained. While one may study the institutional and structural constraint imposed on them, this paper provides an account at the individual level. Although in recent years, the popularity of the catchwords of “woju” (poor and shabby dwelling) and “yizu” (Ant Tribe) attests to the increasingly population of poor educated youth in big cities, class polarization and economic grievances seem not to result in any revival of youth radicalism. In what ways do the educated youth position themselves and conform to the order of urban China characteristic of inequalities and corruption? Despite educated youth's relative compliance with the new order, political control and censorship, one could easily identify the increasing social discontent in the media in recent years. It is worthwhile to explore their reception of the media coverage and represenation of social tensions.

This article attempts to focus on the college graduates who migrate to Guangzhou, usually from less developed areas of the country, for analyzing their class and regional positioning in one of the frontline cities of Chinese neoliberalism. Since 2010, with the help of three students of Sun Yat-­sen University, I successfully interviewed 30 college graduates aged between 23-­31. The interviews were conducted by having conversation with the informants on their reception of the TV drama series of Woju, which began airing in July 2009. The story revolves around two college­-graduate sisters suffering from soaring urban housing prices and touches upon various topics such as economic inequalities, corruption, eviction, extra -marital affairs, etc. The major plot of the drama is the affair between Song Siming, an official, and Haizao, a young college graduate.

In my interview, it is found that despite their knowledge of the injustices of the current system, educated urban youth largely accepted the status quo with aspiration for class mobility. I argue that their social conformity was less derived from their vested interest in Chinese capitalism than their class and regional positionings in the neoliberal reality. There are two dimensions of the reality they encounter with. The first one is the alienated reality featuring state­capitalist imperatives and constraints from which the educated urban youth tried hard to distance themselves. Their longing and aspiration for upward mobility, permeated with their migratory experience from the hinterland to coastal provinces or rural to urban, lie with the second dimension of Chinese neoliberalism. In this light, regional disparity, presumably the cause of grievances or even social unrest, is paradoxically lived as a path toward freedom beyond what was perceived, imagined and portrayed as the constraints of the past and the present in their hometowns. In their negotiation with neoliberal realities, they positioned their class identity in regional terms, thereby imagining their citizenship in a market society.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2013
EventInter-Asia Cultural Studies Society Conference 2013: Beyond the Culture Industry - Singapore, Singapore, Singapore
Duration: 1 Jul 20131 Jul 2013 (Conference Program)


ConferenceInter-Asia Cultural Studies Society Conference 2013: Beyond the Culture Industry
OtherInter-Asia Cultural Studies Society
Internet address


Dive into the research topics of 'Capitalism from Afar and Neoliberal Subject: An Audience Research of Woju'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this