Li Zhang (UC Davis), In Search of Paradise: Middle-Class Living in a Chinese Metropolis, Ithaca: Cornell University Press (2010)
Hsu Committee: Joshua Roth, Chair (Mt. Holyoke), Cathryn Clayton (2010 Hsu finalist, U Hawaii-Manoa) and Nancy Abelmann (UI Champagne-Urbana)
Little more than twenty years ago, the vast majority of urban Chinese lived in state-owned housing organized around work units. Today, China boasts a rate of private homeownership comparable to that of many industrialized countries. Li Zhang’s exemplary study explores this remarkable transformation from the ground up in all its contradictions, including the destruction of entire neighborhoods and dispossession of lower-income inner city residents behind the curtain of “harmonious socialist society.” Rich in ethnographic detail, In Search of Paradise introduces us to the dilemmas facing residents of upscale gated communities in Kunming as they find that their inward-focused, middle-class aspirations for a “private paradise” require them to engage in outward-focused collective action to protect their newfound property rights from rapacious developers. Clearly written and theoretically sophisticated, it is a book that will appeal to all those with interests in cities, class, and rapid social transformation.