Saturday, December 08, 2007

Will the Real Bourgeois Housewives Please Stand Up?

The apartment compound I live in is called Gold Field in Chinese. By the time we moved in, its English name had been changed to Gemdale to deflect some of the tackiness. The complex is not among the very top of Beijing's luxury apartment offerings, but it has all the Western amenities and it's exclusively residential (unlike a few other expat-friendly complexes nearby). In addition, both Shinkong, the latest luxury-brand mall, and the upcoming futuristic CCTV building, are in the neighborhood.

As a result, Gemdale is popular among expat journalists, corporate slaves making Western salaries and rich Taiwanese entrepreneurs with their cute housewives and kids. Since 2004, the apartments have risen more than 100% in value. (Disclaimer: I don't own anything here.)

A week ago, however, I suddenly noticed something unusual about our typically tranquil and family friendly complex--a few apartments had put up signs on their windows reading "Protest--Club House Becoming Tax Bureau!" I vaguely heard something about the developers renting out half of the club house to the tax bureau, which some owners were protesting. But being a corporate slave myself, I did not have too much energy to join in for support.

Then yesterday, while walking to 7 Eleven to get lunch in the warm Saturday sun, I noticed a pack of definitely-not-local-looking-Chinese gathering in front of a building. A guy had jumped off the building that morning, but the police refused to explain the details. He had been clinically depressed, yet the recent spat with developers regarding the club house might (disclaimer: just might) have triggered it.

Then I noticed that many many more windows were showing the protest posters. I was shown a local newspaper coverage of the dispute--the owners accusing the developers of having falsely advertised the compound as exclusively residential; now the tax bureau would draw in undesirable foot traffic, introduce security problems and (gasp!) decrease real estate prices. Three more Beijing newspapers were supposed to publish similar stories that morning but the editors pulled them all after some command from some Related Authority.

I found the gag order bizarre--this is a normal legal dispute between developers and owners, no land grab, forced relocation, or public unrest involved. The authorities want to stop people from knowing because of the current regimented call for harmony before the Olympics, or because the developers are well connected?

In the crowd, an owner suggested, "Why don't we ask XXX to talk to YYY (a high-up government guy)? YYY should know this is no way to build a harmonious society."

I received a poster from the crowd and put it on our window to show solidarity. A couple of hours later, three women looking in their 30s came to our door. They asked for my name, phone and signature on a petition.

"They can't just do this and decrease our property value!" One woman said in her perfect Taiwanese mandarin accent.

They were indeed all Taiwanese. I thanked them for their hard work--they were going through the apartments in the complex one by one for signatures. They whined in that cute Taiwanese way that you mainlanders are not helping. I said sorry we don't have that tradition. They laughed--you are right, we Taiwanese do have the tradition to protest.

Oh how I love the Taiwanese housewives at my door. They were pretty, smartly dressed, articulate and determined. Such a nice representation of the bourgeois living in the neighborhood.

I have always believed that the budding bourgeois class will play a much bigger role in shaping China's future than in previous revolutionaries. They are damn protective of their properties. Nobody dares to force into their apartments to take down the posters, or put them away in unknown locations. Plus they are loud, and they can't be silenced because their neighbors are Western journalists.

It's this self interest, and their insistence on rule of law, that will contribute to the peaceful evolution of China.

Go Taiwanese housewives! The future of China lies in your tenacious well-manicured hands!


SN said...

I have enjoyed reading your entries. However I can't tell if this piece is about taiwanese housewives being ignorantly self-centered or the new middle-class being conscious about their rights.

Beijing Loafer said...

Hmm...It could be self-centered middle-class being protective about their rights... and being Taiwanese, ignorant or not, helps them being more vocal. For despite being in "one country," people growing up in "two systems" have different habits of fighting for their rights.

Or maybe not...

beijing said...

Maybe democracy is arriving.