Marriage and social mobility in post-Mao urban China

Market transition in the People’s Republic of China greatly changed the way in which people access and conceptualise goods, jobs and services. Young people can today spend free time in consumer spaces that present romance as the driving force of love and conjugality. At the same time, the romantic ideal is inevitably depicted as belonging to the realm of personal fulfilment and conspicuous consumption. This ideal prosperous, self-supporting family life is based on naturalised differences of age and gender, as much as of class. China may then appear to be yet another site for the reworking of a ‘global’ model of conjugality based on personal preference rather than on wider social relationships.
This project, however, challenges the idea of a neat dichotomy between the individual/personal and the social/public, conceptualising them as discursive fields that are renegotiated in practice according to the (socially produced) conditions and dispositions of social actors. It looks at the ways in which people in post-Mao urban China use marriage in order to maintain or reach desired levels of social security, where this may include not only financial assets, but also emotional stability, social status and a satisfactory perception of their own selves.

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