12 Pages

Introduction: taste, class culture and the print media in contemporary China

Over the past decade, the post-socialist Chinese middle class, as a group of consumer citizens of the world, has attracted media and public attention. The question ‘When we speak of the “Chinese middleclass,” to whom and to what do we refer?’ (Doctoroff 2005: 14) has also become widely relevant. Though this question is asked on the back cover of a marketing guidebook which was hailed as the ‘must-have guide to selling to the new Chinese consumer’ (Doctoroff 2005: back cover), it goes beyond what is warranted by the book’s sales scheme. Characteristically, members of the emergent Chinese middle-class are designated as new global consumers. Professing to reveal their motivations and consequent advertising and branding strategies, the guide offers ‘the best psychoanalysis’ (Doctoroff: back cover) of the group identified, thus assuming whilst at the same time creating its object of analysis. By delimiting the middle class to the ‘newly affluent’ (ibid.: 15) or those middle-income earners with more than basic purchasing power in marketing terms, the author’s vision demonstrates familiarity with contemporary Chinese politics. This focus on post-reform Chinese affluence, predicated on its extension to a critical mass in the foreseeable future, is in line with the ‘parlance of the Sixteenth People’s Congress’, which ‘winks at a robust, yet pliable, xiao kang’ (ibid.: 14). The blueprint for a future China launched by the Sixteenth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party held in November 2002 was indeed the construction and stabilisation of a comprehensive, ‘relatively affluent (xiao kang) society’, with the need to increase the national ratio of middleincome earners as key.1