Aspirational Chinese in Competitive Social Repositionings

Aspirational Chinese in Competitive Social Repositionings

A Re-Analysis of Societal Dynamics from 1964 to 2000

By Jia Gao

Drawing upon a new perspective of competitive social repositioning and numerous new sources, this book fills the analytical gap caused by the research focus on either macro- or micro-level issues through analysing how everyday Chinese had reacted to and influenced the numerous changes in China from 1964 to 2000.

Hardback, 252 Pages


August 2023

£80.00, $110.00

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About This Book

In the past four or so decades, a significant amount of research efforts has been made to examine the rapid and constant social changes taking place in China and the dynamics behind the process, resulting in a rich research literature on a wide range of issues and aspects of China’s recent social transformations. However, most of the literature has largely focused on either the political, ideological and policy issues at the macro level or the various forms of spontaneous resistance and protest at the micro level. What has not been adequately analysed is how the majority of ordinary Chinese people has reacted to and influenced the many changes in society over a long time period. This analytical partiality has given an impression that China consists of only two opposing types of people: the oppressing ruling class and the angry oppressed adversaries, restricting our thinking and understanding of Chinese society, its dynamics and its changing trends to the perspectives of elites and their adversaries.

Drawing upon a new perspective of competitive social repositioning, and based on the evidence recorded in numerous recently published personal memories and other published accounts, as well as the evidence collected through in-depth interviews, this book seeks to re-analyse the ever-changing, but still under-researched, societal dynamics driving social transformations in China from 1964, when Mao Zedong publicly put forward and propagated his ‘Five-Requirements’ for selecting heirs to the Chinese communist cause, to 2000 when Jiang Zemin formulated his ‘Three-Represents’ theory to modify the ideological political thinking and practices of China’s ruling elites. Of course, Chinese society has not been evolving exactly in the way that Mao and Jiang anticipated. Instead, China has been driven by a high proportion of its aspirational citizens who have kept repositioning themselves in China’s shifting distribution patterns of social resources and changing social structure. This book analyses what had been driving the changes in the attitudes and behaviours of many everyday Chinese over time in recent decades, what characteristics of their preferences and choices were at different stages, and how their choices had resulted in the zig-zag patterns of China’s recent social change.


Explanation of social change in the People’s Republic of China is most usually heavily determined by the political leadership’s policy statements. Prof Gao’s highly original analysis instead focusses on ordinary people’s everyday responses to and interactions with the policy process, and advances an overall theory of their social psychology in terms of competitive social repositioning. — David S. G. Goodman, China Studies Centre, University of Sydney

One of the most successful attempts that analyses current China’s social transformations through the daily life and experiences of contemporary Chinese people. — Shenshen Cai, Chinese Studies, Monash University.

Author Information

Jia Gao is Professor of Chinese Studies at the Asia Institute, the University of Melbourne.


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Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations; List of Figures; List of Tables; Preface and Acknowledgements; The Absence of Everyday Chinese in the Dichotomous Paradigm; Rebranding the Communist Heir Narrative and the Cultural Revolution; Tearing the Utopian Veil Down by Sent-Down Youth; Crying Out for Changes in the Second Half of the 1970s; Battling for the Advantages Under the Dengist Political Alliances; Climbing Different Social Ladders from the Mid-1980s; Filling in the Post-1989 Vacuum Left by Educated Liberals; Seizing Chances to be Entrepreneurial in Post-1992 China; Towards a Theory of Competitive Social Repositioning; References; Index


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