Whose Beijing? The construction of identity and exclusion in an era of social change
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As China is undergoing a great social transformation, urbanization has brought millions of domestic migrants into Beijing. After the 2008 Olympics, long term Beijingers have started to express their hostility against the overwhelming population of domestic migrants. This thesis seeks to enlarge our understanding of the nature and dynamics of this local hostility in Beijing, as a case study of the construction of prejudice that results from social change. It is illustrated under a combined framework of Durkheim’s theories of social change and anomie, Allport’s theorizing about prejudice, and Elias’s writings on insiders and outsiders. In order to answer how and why local hostility happened recently in Beijing, I located my ethnographic research on a grassroots organization consisting of long term Beijingers. There are three main findings. First, social change provides the invention of new traditions and norms that long term Beijingers were able to adopt before migrants came and had the chance to get settled. This enabled long term Beijingers to express their hostility by claiming that the migrants were “uncivilized”. Second, urbanization and a series of urban reforms not only brought migrants into the city, but also disturbed the existing lifestyles of the long term Beijingers and made them feel relatively deprived. Nostalgic sentiments aroused among long term Beijingers blamed outsiders for their perceived deprivation. Thirdly, the civic participation that the grassroots organization encouraged did not significantly reduce their prejudice against outsiders. Instead, local hostility was veiled by active participation and was believed to be legitimate because of the support of the local power structure, the mainstream media, and by other government policies.