The making of mass society in Shanghai: The socialist transformation of everyday life, 1949-1958.

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Bibliographic Details
Author / Creator:Werner, Jake.
Description:334 p.
Format: E-Resource Dissertations
Local Note:School code: 0330.
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Other authors / contributors:University of Chicago.
Notes:Advisor: Bruce Cumings.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--The University of Chicago, Division of the Social Sciences, Department of History, 2015.
Dissertation Abstracts International, Volume: 76-08(E), Section: A.
Summary:This study seeks to explain the emergence and ascendance of mass society in China through an investigation of everyday life in Shanghai across three turbulent decades. From the possibilities opened up by Jazz Age consumer culture in the early 1930s to the wholesale restructuring of work and culture under the Chinese Communist Party in the 1950s, the advent of mass society was centrally implicated in --- and ultimately provided the resolution of --- the long crisis of depression and war in China. By integrating large groups of people who had been marginalized, both socially and economically, into the industrial economy and a new culture of the masses, Communist Party rule after 1949 rapidly gained legitimacy and revived economic growth. Yet the process of integration into mass society also planted the seeds of future crises, as mass society's aesthetic of homogenization and standardization developed in tension with the occupational differentiation and regimentation required by the Party's developmental vision.
Bringing together the methods of economic and cultural history, this dissertation explores the Party's vision of social transformation and how it was implemented on the complex social landscape of China's most important center of production, the city of Shanghai. I argue that to understand the 1950s, historians must move beyond an emphasis on the Communist Party's use of propaganda and repression. Mass society was not simply imposed by a domineering state upon a reluctant society, but emerged from a tangle of competing desires that were themselves reshaped through the encounter --- converging around an increasingly standardized set of expectations and aspirations. The Party appealed to the powerful popular memory of the dysfunctional "old society" and offered in its stead a "beautiful future" that would be well-ordered and equitable, but which could only be reached through submission to the collective and to the imperative of expanding production. The possibility of such a future was rendered plausible at the grassroots not primarily by Party propaganda, but by a direct experience of the concrete material traces of mass society. Through a close examination of new work routines and forms of participation in the factories, popular involvement in new political ceremonies, and everyday conditions of residential life, this study shows how material practices, more than abstract ideology, gave form to mass society.
I argue that this dynamic was not unique to Mao's China but part of a movement toward bureaucratizing economies and homogenizing cultures across the postwar world. China during the Mao period has often been cast as outside the movement of global history. This dissertation aims to restore China to its global context by identifying a convergence at the level of everyday life on both sides of the Cold War divide. "Rationalization" --- of the production process and culture alike --- was the watchword of the age, animating a worldwide pursuit of standardized mass production, technocratic economic administration, and a form of social inclusion premised on cultural conformity.
The realization of these social forms was particularly pronounced in the People's Republic of China, throwing into relief the curious dual nature of "the masses" --- at once an object of Party administration and an active political subject compelling the Party to repeatedly adjust its policy. The tensions embedded in the masses as a concept and as a practice suggest a new approach to the question of modernity in China. While the Mao period is often cast as a detour in the course of Chinese history, it is precisely the dynamic of reversal and reconstitution of the antinomies of modernity that most clearly marks twentieth century China as modern.