Middle Class Identity in China: Subjectivity and Stratification

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In recent years increasing attention has been paid to the Chinese middle class as a potential driver of domestic sociopolitical change. This article argues that in its current stratified and fragmented form, the so-called Chinese middle class lacks a coherent social consciousness, which prevents it from taking any meaningful sociopolitical action. Interviews from Ningbo, Zhejiang, reveal a strong tendency for respondents who would be counted among the “middle class” by commonly used objective criteria to identify themselves as “salaried class”. There is a significant sense of relative deprivation found among the self-identified salaried class, who place greater emphasis on financial indicators as the primary determinants of class, compared to the self-identified middle class, who stress the importance of cultural indicators that separate them from the “parvenus”. In constructing their respective class identities, both groups use similar imaginings of the ideal “middle class”, whose cultured lifestyle rests upon strong economic foundations. The point of contrast is usually made through exclusion, rather than inclusion, which suggests that while class-based social comparison is commonplace in China, class-based social cohesion is still lacking.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)629-646
JournalAsian Studies Review
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2 Oct 2017


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