Urbanism as a political way of life: the case of highly educated mainlanders in Hong Kong

Iam Chong IP

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

Abstract

Purpose
The disengaged form of urban experience, addressed by Louis Wirth in his classic essay, is worthy of further theorization and contextualization. The themes such as indifference, alienation, and disengagement, once the focus of early urban theorists, remain underdeveloped in contemporary China. Through the case study of gangpiao (“Hong Kong drifters”), the highly educated youth from mainland China to Hong Kong, this paper aims to offer an apt and logical illustration of how a disengaged form of urban experience is contingently made.

Design/methodology/approach
Between 2017 and 2020, the author and his assistants interviewed 50 mainland Chinese youth, aged between 25 and 35, in Hong Kong and explored how they perceive, conceive and relate themselves to the city.

Findings
Most informants, instead of devoting themselves to the local community life, embrace a way of life characterized by impersonal, superficial and transitory contacts. The author argues that their feeling of estrangement and indifference, rather than a “natural” outcome of economic progress, is an ethos primarily nurtured by China’s governing strategy and tactics of segregation. The transnational space of gangpiao is a part of the process of reproduction of the Chinese state across territories.

Originality/value
Except for a very limited number of studies, most scholars and critics barely examine the responsibilities of non-state actors for the dominant project of urbanism. The themes such as indifference, alienation and disengagement, once the focus of early urban theorists, remain underdeveloped in the new era of Chinese urban culture. In other words, more scholarly attention should be paid to the circumstances under which people disregard local differences and envision and embrace a “generic” form of city and way of urban life.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages13
JournalSocial Transformations in Chinese Societies
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 May 2021

Bibliographical note

Lingnan University: Faculty Research Grant (2018, no. 101877), Research Grants Council of Hong Kong: Early Career Scheme (23600616).

Keywords

  • Gangpiao
  • Transnationalism
  • Migration
  • Urban experience
  • Chinese state
  • Hong Kong
  • Disengagement
  • Segregation

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