Living in post-1978 in the Reform Era after Mao was during a time of societal change because of capitalism. Capitalism is an economic ideal that focuses on private business and individual gains. The infiltration of capitalism and the characteristics that it brought had an impact on the people of China. The economy in the post Mao era began to see changes in the gap between rich and poor, privatization of jobs, consumerism and the housing market. Capitalism leads to shifts in identity in China's people in all these things.
The gap between the rich and poor means that people of low socioeconomic status are at a considerable distance away from reaching a level of wealth like that of the rich people in society. This gap is ever increasing in society, making continuously more difficult for the underprivileged to get ahead and survive comfortably in China. Capitalism being introduced to China's economy plays a key role to why it is hard to survive, capitalism is also creating an identity shift in the people and what they identify with.
People that were raised in traditional Chinese culture identified with family background and the genuine nature of one's surname. This is no longer the case. Today people identify more with their socioeconomic status and the struggle to become monetarily rich. This struggle to the top that is inspired by capitalism neglects traditional personal identity. "Economic organization in China today is increasingly capitalist or, in the parlance of the CCP, following the rules of market socialism. This brought stunning economic growth and painful economic disparities." (Cheek, 2001:25) Cheek illustrates that capitalist influences have created a burden on the people, and while some gain and others lose, it pushes socioeconomic classes in opposite directions.
Jobs in China are more difficult to get and keep than they once use to be when compared to assigned work units. No longer are jobs given to the people, they are now privatized. Capitalism has put more focus on people's ability to produce a product and the amount of quality of the work. Instead of being assigned a work unit, the post reform era and taken away a personal identifying factor for people. No longer can they identify with the work unit they were in. people now struggle competing for jobs and to find a new identity in the work they do. This shift in identity driven by capitalism is a new way of life that has made much difficulty for people. Being thrown into a new work force to stand on their own is vicious and difficult, especially because China is without much instruction and it's for the first time. ["Any perfect candidates? I want perfect!" She remarked. Biao did not give her a direct answer but said, "It's like finding needles in the sea." Five people were waiting to be interviewed by Ms. Tang."](Pun, 2005:53) Pun Ngai examines the brutality of a new market that focuses on individual labor and one's ability to bring quality as a characteristic to the work place. This is new and it shows the adjustment that is taking place in China to the new ways.
Greed change the way people conduct their lives. As more capitalist markets came into the economy greed began to make people work more for consumer products. Consumerism was now becoming mainstream in China's society and with a capitalist push it all transformed the things that people identified themselves with. Earlier Chinese history people identified with homes, food, land, livestock and importantly children particularly boys. Post-Mao and into today people identify more with western influenced things like fashion, cars, the latest trends, and tangible things that do not have intrinsic value. Consumerism has shifted what people identify with to an identity that better suits economic gain. "After a few years of city life, these women undergo a great change both materially and ideologically. Generally, the education level of these women is pretty low, but they are very quickly able to adapt and develop themselves."(Dutton,2008:136.) The consumerist nation that has emerged in China in the Post Mao era has created a great need for adaptability and the greed for material things only strengthens the adaption. When people want something so badly they will find a way to get it, and in this case a capitalist market and consumerism go hand in hand and facilitate this like never before for the Chinese people.
One's home and hometown is often a benchmark of one's identity. In China's history if someone told someone else where they lived they could immediately categorize them in socioeconomic status and get a good understanding of that person's identity. The housing market in the Reform Era became privatized and changed the way people identified with where they lived. A major housing changed happened when villages where abandoned and people moved into the city. No longer did people live at their work units and have their dormitories handed out to them. Societal advancement led to condominium style living quarters that were near the work place. With a new way of living people were forced to abandon an old identity in search of a new one, this caused some heartache and confusion. They were also forced to create a new sense of community since the old community characteristics had been lost. "One of the most important changes in China's urban landscape is the formation of a new social stratum-the new "middle class" made possible by this privatization. The demise of the public housing regime and the rise of commercial real estate industry have opened up new opportunities for urbanites to seek differentiated lifestyles, status recognition, and cultural orientations."(Zhang, 2008:24) A mixing of cultures could now be found in one condominium building in the city as well and this spurred new neighbor relations that had to be gotten use to. New self identification arose and people began to take more ownership of where they lived because the government began selling old work unit apartments to the workers at a lower than market rate. Private home ownership was a new idea that pushed the identity shift to a new level.
The post Mao Reform Era was much different and advancing quickly into what China is today. China went through a large amount of work and trouble to get to the Reform era. A new economy that mixes communist ideals with a capitalist market created a feeling that one's work longer had a cap and that life advancement was now an individual choice. With capitalist market gains also brought new sets of hardships to endure and work through. Individual identity that had once been hard pottery was now soft clay again and taking on new shapes in the Reform era. The identity shifts in the country also paved the way for a new future and proved China's adaptive characteristics to overcome many difficult endeavors.
Bibliography-Cheek Timothy 2006 Living with Reform, Zed Books: New York-Michael Dutton 1998 Streetlife China, excerpts, Cambridge U Press: Cambridge-Pun Ngai 2005 "Marching from the Village: Women's Struggles between Work and Family," Chapter 2 of Made in China: Women Factory Workers in a Global Workplace, Duke University Press and Hong Kong University Press-Li Zhang 2008 "Private Homes, Distinct Lifestyles: Performing a New Middle Class" in Privatizing China: Socialism from Afar, ed. Li Zhang and Aihwa Ong, Cornell University Press: Ithaca