Contact Space: Shanghai : The Chinese Dream and the Production of a New Society

Abstract: Within the context of understanding the opening up of the People’s Republic of China and the city of Shanghai, the aim of the study is to explore ‘space’ in Chinese Communist Party rhetoric, Shanghai spatial planning discourse and personal intercultural engagements. By the term ‘space’, the author refers to an understanding of societal production that integrates space as part of the analysis, taking into account the interplay between official statements on nation building, regional and urban planning, concrete built environments and people’s situated understandings of space. With this in mind, the tripartite aim establishes an understanding of how the Chinese Communist Party envisioned the opening up of the People’s Republic of China and Shanghai, how the Shanghai Municipal Government has implemented the Chinese Communist Party’s visions for the city and how young Chinese talk about their experiences of the changes taking place in Shanghai in interviews about intercultural communication in the city. The tripartite understanding of the opening up of the People’s Republic of China and Shanghai is established by the term ‘contact space’. By this term, the author illustrates and analyses the phenomenon of the opening up processes taking place in the People’s Republic of China and Shanghai, and also develops an analytical tool that allows for an analysis of how the opening up involves several integrated levels of the Chinese society. By the combined use of sociology of space and postcolonial studies, the author shows that the Chinese Communist Party encouraged a controlled insertion of capitalism within the one-party system to modernize the country. Several cities, such as Shanghai, were designated to lead the country into a modern, prosperous, socialist state. Emerging into state-sanctioned capitalist spaces within the one-party rule, the localities were named ‘special economic zones’ and ‘open coastal cities’. Through a land-leasing system, demolition and renovation of selected built environments, the author shows that Shanghai is acquiring the material and visual components of a global city. The author illustrates that the Shanghai Municipal Government produces contemporary Shanghai into a twenty-first-century post-revolutionary city anchored in ancient China, the city’s colonial heritage and Mao’s socialism. By the interviews, the author demonstrates that the city of Shanghai emerges into a contact space conditioned by its colonial history and more recent changes, the city’s geographical location and representations in literature. Illustrating China’s emerging society, the interviewees engage in culture and language exchanges, work at international companies and take part in the city’s leisure and entertainment spaces. Belonging to the emerging Chinese middle-classes, the interviewees demonstrate how they create their own contact spaces (one-to-one occasions and group gathering initiatives) and make use of established contact spaces in Shanghai (universities, language schools, international companies, leisure and entertainment spaces). The author also concludes that Shanghai’s emerging society is based in China’s own developmental discourses but also globally recognized patterns of social hierarchies and capitalist urban space.