Wu Qiang: middle class lifestyle in the haze

Wen Qiang

today’s complex mood of people talking about haze is very different from that of the 2008 Olympic Games, which severely attacked several American athletes. Looking around like the end of the century, and with several lawyers suing several North China city governments as citizens, China’s haze politics has entered a new stage, just like silent hill in the United States in the early 1960s

it may be appropriate to use silent hill as a metaphor for the present, or to enlighten the potential significance of haze to China’s social life in the future. Maybe, it will still be ridiculed by many people, just as they ridiculed Chai Jing two years ago. They can’t see that things are beginning to change, and this kind of change is always beyond people’s initial expectations, just like someone insisted that “is it fog or haze”, which makes people inevitably fall into the fog, and they don’t know what is going on

when 1 first arrived in Beijing in the late 1980s, 1 can still see in the early morning that a group of middle school students riding bicycles would follow me on the broad streets and behind the smoke of the great liberation, and they would go all the way together before class. 1t’s hard for people to imagine such a vibrant landscape today. These students in those years are either in the nightclub or struggling in the hardship of life today

for example, because of the haze, cars need to be restricted by single or even numbers to enter the city and go on the road, and the rural areas in the suburbs of Beijing urgently launched the “coal to gas” project before this winter. 1t seems that the haze is transcending geographical boundaries and class differences with its pervasive and unimaginable “homogenization”, becoming the most important event at present, that is, politics, beyond the environment or the haze itself. With some power, what can be changed

in an article more than three years ago, 1 once said that, like the protest on the 2012 Beijing marathon, a horn is blowing in the haze, arousing the environmental awareness of the emerging middle class. Although the victims of haze are homogenized, they have different unjust effects because of class, geography and other factors. For those emerging middle-class people in big cities, they are particularly sensitive and most likely to voice or act to express their dissatisfaction. For example, Beijing citizens’ dissatisfaction has a much greater impact on social media and traditional media than Shijiazhuang, where the haze is more serious, and so does Chengdu. The civil society in these cities is more mature

it’s just that it’s not clear what this potential mechanism is, so haze politics is like being in a haze. Similar to “start with me”, when environmental politics rose in Germany in the 1970s, a concept in the scientific community began to spread, that is, bringschuld der Wissenschaft. Science has the responsibility to repay society and promote public understanding of science. As a result, all kinds of theories about zero growth, the seriousness of environmental pollution and the threat of nuclear winter in the scientific community are first voiced to the mass media by some active scientific workers, and then spread to practice the responsibility of public intellectuals. After the May 1968 storm, the lost students were able to gather and discuss again under these environmental and anti nuclear issues, mobilize new environmental and social movements, and change the environmental and political outlook of Europe, including the birth of the green party in the 1980s. Although China’s scientific community has started to study haze since the beginning of the 21st century, it has always talked to itself in vague terms, and has not put forward any clear and effective public policy suggestions. Occasionally, it has been seen in the newspapers or put into practice, but it all disturbs people’s lives, such as attributing the cause of haze to cooking fumes, or putting forward the scheme of restricting motor vehicles

however, people’s tolerance seems to be increasing at the same time. 1 remember that 1 got pharyngitis soon after my investigation in Beijing in 2003. At that time, the haze was not heavy. 1t was still summer, but it was amazing. As soon as 1 left Beijing and got to Yanbei by train, pharyngitis was miraculously cured. However, living in Beijing today, 1 have developed the habit of intermittent running. As long as 1 see the wind coming and the haze dispersing, 1 will resume the long-distance running training in the Olympic Sports Park. When the haze gets worse, 1 will hibernate and rest, and so on

those friends who fled Dali a few years ago because of their children’s health problems also moved back. After all, it is difficult to leave Beijing for a long time. However, while those who stay in the haze capital continue to install all kinds of fresh air systems, wear masks more carefully, and learn to survive in the haze, they also calculate the benefits of staying in Beijing and the losses of life brought by the haze more precisely. Such calculations, together with their discussions, have gradually formed a middle-class lifestyle in the haze

when we review Chai Jing’s under the dome two years ago today, we may be able to re evaluate the value of this documentary, although many people still laugh at Chai Jing’s weakness in calling for “start with me” when broadcasting the documentary speech. 1n fact, whether from Chai Jing’s narration of her family experience and cognitive change, or from the “four driving forces” of China’s haze politics reflected in this documentary, it can be attributed to individualism’s calculation of quality of life. This is in line with the rationality and values of the middle class, and it is also the logic that they are most concerned about and make collective choices

then, the other three forces, which 1 observed for the first time after the broadcast of “under the dome”: the coal, oil and other fossil fuel industries and interest groups, affected by the changes in international relative prices, suffered strong competition and severe blow from the new energy sector in the end; Emission reduction, as the only reliable link between China and the United States, led to the signing of the Paris climate agreement on the eve of this year’s G20 summit; The power of the environmental protection department has risen. 1n addition to the latter, the first two domestic and international political factors have already completed their missions. Only the quality of life of the middle class can be the key to the future

of course, this is not only because the scale of China’s emerging middle class is expanding, but also because the quality of life is politicized. 1n other words, the problems surrounding the quality of life may not continue to be internalized into family problems or class problems, but may rise to social problems, class conflicts or relations, the support of the political power, or vice versa, that is, openness

this is another kind of “homogenization” in the form of haze, like homogenization of milk, which may turn a consumer class into a political class. For example, facing the food safety problems of melamine and waste oil, the middle class may usually avoid these safety problems and choose imported milk and milk powder and more reliable restaurants. This is the class segregation of consumption, and it is understandable that no matter how the victims of melamine are mobilized, it is difficult to form a strong voice. Among them, the middle class elites only give legal and media aid and charity relief, thus isolating the collective action of the middle class

as a consumer class, even in the face of environmental and class justice issues related to their own consumption behavior, such as shark fin, fur, tuna or sweatshops, “start with me” and consumer resistance is not easy. 1n terms of effect, consumer responsibility is no more important than producer responsibility and government regulatory responsibility. To truly transform them from consumers to citizens, we need to mobilize and participate in the formation of a huge consumer boycott movement, such as the long-term boycott of seal skin, the boycott of tuna, and the advocacy of fair trade in coffee beans by animal protection organizations. 1n the long run, we may change our concept and form a new way of life, that is, the political correctness of consumption< 1n this sense, Chai Jing's "start with me" refers to a social movement. After the documentary, what is missing is social follow-up and mobilization, which of course has environmental limitations. But behind its appeal, it is different from ordinary political consumerism or consumer boycott movement - the politics of quality of life. 1ts class attribute comes from all the vanity of the middle class: the desperate pursuit and careful maintenance of the way of life, such as the quality of school district, housing location, property standard, warehouse supermarket, automobile brand, clothing brand, tourist destination, etc. this strong sensitivity to the way of life replaces or exceeds their sense of class justice, social responsibility and social responsibility Sensitivity to benefits and taxes. 1t is easy to form a collective class illusion, and the illusion of growth, wealth and freedom leads to their support for Neo liberal globalization, their instinctive interest in trump, their dislike for social movements, and their disregard for the pain of the underclass, though they will also participate more in various charitable and public interests to soothe their inner uneasiness. Therefore, the whole middle class constitutes the ruling order of neoliberalism, which may be the basis of Hu Angang's full confidence that China can overcome the "middle-income trap"< 1n fact, this so-called "middle-income trap" has always been worrying. 1n 2007, after the outbreak of the subprime mortgage crisis in the United States, the world bank published a report "East Asia Renaissance: the view of economic growth", which first put forward the concept of "middle income trap", warning China and other developing countries of possible difficulties. Middle income countries with a per capita national income of 1000-3000 US dollars rarely succeed in joining the ranks of developed countries, However, the labor cost is higher than that of more low-income countries, and the advantage of high technology is insufficient, so it is difficult to compete with developed countries. China, which has always attached great importance to the opinions of the world bank, naturally takes this warning as a mental trouble. Only in this way can China take the "middle-income trap" as its economic development goal in the 12th Five Year Plan in other words, when the Sino US summit signed the Paris agreement on the eve of the Hangzhou G20 summit, the uncertainty of the trump election and the interest groups of the fossil energy industry were all faced with the victims of “ambitious masters and conspirators”. The haze intensified highlights the biggest worry surrounding the development of the country, that is, the power of the middle class. The pressure to maintain the quality of life in the middle class. Different from the traditional sense of relative deprivation, dissatisfaction caused by the decline of quality of life may have cumulative explosive power. They are eager for the quality of life: whether it is the world’s largest automobile market with more than 20 million vehicles per year, the largest luxury market, the demand for free trade and freedom of travel and oil, or the sensitivity or restraint of equal rights in education, property rights and personal rights of citizens, it can’t resist the direct and comprehensive damage and infringement of the quality of life caused by haze under the dome, they can no longer pretend that they don’t know the steel pollution in Hebei, and they can’t ignore the cost of economic growth in the past two decades. They also begin to think about the publicity of haze, the public goods of air and their welfare justice, such as the ecological transfer payment and environmental injustice caused by the forced closure of polluting industries. After all, the closure of polluting industries may cause massive unemployment, but the working class and the ordinary citizen class are often the most vulnerable groups in the face of environmental degradation. Therefore, the quality of life has become a common public problem, which may go beyond the “middle-income trap”

Back to list