Gordon Mathews – Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong


Many South Asians make their home in Chungking Mansions. It is a place, unlike the rest of Hong Kong, where they can work with their fellow country-men and not suffer discrimination for their non-Chinese ethnicity and lack of language ability.


In a broader sense, most people in Chungking Mansions engage in ethnic stereotyping. Africans, South Asians tell me, are of “low intelligence” and “naive.” South Asians, Africans tell me, “only scheme and think about business.” Pakistanis, Indians say, “always want to fight,” while Nigerians, East Africans say, are never to be trusted.

… …

Chungking Mansions interpersonal relations, if not always overtly friendly, are generally peaceful. People from more or less warring societies in the world over come to Chungking Mansions with competing needs. But they do not fight with each other, as they might in their home countries — or at least if they do occasionally quarrel, the quarrels are soon enough set aside in Chungking Mansions’ universal striving to make money.


All in all, for stores in Chungking Mansions, China is both the source of goods and a distinct threat. Chungking Mansions’ wholesalers represent nodes in between — most of what they sell is made in China and fans out across the globe. Chungking Mansions thus play the same role that Hong Kong itself has long played — it is an entrepot between China and the world.


One point to remember is that despite the occasional accounts of shade goings-on, most of this trade is largely legal. This is why these traders are so accessible. … …The popular imagination of Hong Kong, and perhaps in the Western world as a whole, is that these developing-world traders are surreptitious and in the shadows, but this is not generally the case in Chungking Mansions. Most are quite open about what they do and proud of what they do.


Chinese goods, according to these traders, however much disdained by some traders and customers, have an extraordinary impact. For all the shoddiness of many Chinese goods, they do bring to poor African societies a taste of the world beyond Africa. Even if this taste is copied, flawed, or used, it is nonetheless a real taste of the world beyond.


By and large, police in Chungking Mansions operate under the principle of laissez-faire neoliberalism: as long as the Hong Kong public is not harmed, let business go on inimpeded, since business is the foremost priority of Hong Kong. This attitude is what makes Chungking Mansions possible.


The cosmopolitanism of many Chungking Mansions residents is in distinct contrast to the lack of cosmopolitanism that they may sense among Hong Kong people. Ironically, Hong Kong people themselves have often complained in recent decades about having nowhere to belong to, of belonging neither to China nor to “the West” but being homeless. Few South Asians in Chungking Mansions recognize that they and Hong Kong Chinese at large may suffer from quite parallel senses of forced cosmopolitanism.


It is sometimes argued that we live in “an increasingly global economy in which capital, trade, and investment are mobile but people are held back within the confines of the territorial state.” … …However, Chungking Mansions attracts its traders and merchants from around the world exactly because in its low-end globalization, face-to-face relations are, for the most part, all that can be trusted.


Chungking Mansions represents not just a third-world enclave but a middle- and upper-class third-world enclave of people with money and education far beyond that of most of their fellow citizens at home. The peacefulness of Chungking Mansions not only comes from the ideology of neoliberalism but also from the fact that almost everyone in Chungking Mansions is a comparative success in life, by the very fact that they are in the building.


Li Zhang – Strangers in the City

Chapter 1 – The Floating Population as Subjects

  • The floating population is a socially constructed category. Naming and categorizing does not simply describe, reflect or represent social order, but also shape and reshape power relations among different groups
  • The reregulation of migrants accompanied a proliferation of discourse on the floating population in official documents, government censuses, newspaper reports, scholarly research, media, and popular literature
  • Migrants are often referred to not as living individuals with their own desires, dreams, and intentions, but as flocks of raw labor that can be used or expelled at any time. It is through such dehumanizing and objectifying discourse that unequal power relations are also encoded
  • By linking spatial movement to positive qualities, migrants subverts the dominant interpretation of floating, reasoning that mobility is entirely compatible with the new economic trajectory promoted by the state
  • Many migrants see wealth and material consumption as an important way of gaining social status and cosmopolitan-based identity. Research also suggests that migrants tend to emphasize wealth as an indicator of status because many emigrated to improve their economic situations
  • Subject-making is a dialectical process of being-made and self-making. Migrants do not just react passively to state domination; rather they try to make sense of their own experiences and develop new senses of self

Chapter 2 – Commercial Culture, Social Networks, and Migration Passages

  • The movement of many Chinese migrants is often not between two geographic points only, but from one point to many other places
  • The capital-raising strategy was not motivated by the sense of renqing that bound together those in the rural society, but was largely based on shrewd calculations of cost and return, even between family members

Chapter 3 – The Privatization of Space

  • The changing social relationship between landlord families and Wenzhou migrant renters was articulated in their shifting spatial relationships. Since 1990, many moved into the smaller and darker xiangfang and rented the larger rooms out to maximize their monetary gain
  • Dayuan was popular not only because it provided larger and better housing space for individual families, but also because it offered localized protection against crime. Along with this new spatial formation, a type of patron-client network based on three vertically positioned social groups (local officials, housing bosses, and ordinary migrants) also took shape
  • Living together in the compounds reshaped migrants’ interaction with local officials. Rather going to individual migrant households to collect taxes and fees, local officials could work through the housing bosses

Chapter 4 – The Privatization of Power

  • Extended kinship networks are the most important elements in the fabric of the migrant community. Marriage strategies help create social and commercial alliances in the new urban sojourning setting
  • Unlike bureaucratic power that relied largely on impersonal rules and legal codes, the power and prestige of migrant leaders was inseparable from personal traits such as valor and fearlessness
  • The absence of emotional ties in the clientelist networks formed in Zhejiangcun is conditioned by the asymmetric structural positions between officials and migrant entrepreneurs
  • Civic power within the migrant population is more likely to derive from traditional forms of social networks. Visible civic associations cannot serve as a plausible or long-lasting basis for the development of nonstate power

Chapter 5 – Reconfigurations of Gender, Work, and Household

  • Women’s increased participation in production and commerce does not automatically lead to their empowerment
  • Clothing production that is performed in the household is feminized, privatized, and therefore devalued despite its labor-intensive nature and its importance to the business enterprise
  • Women’s failure to meet their husbands’ social expectations, which is a consequence of being excluded from public spaces in the first place, is used to justify keeping them out of the social domain
  • By only looking at how poor rural households can achieve prosperity through migration, we might fail to note that some women are further disempowered and subject to new forms of gender exploitation during the process of “getting rich”

Chapter 6 – Contesting Crime and Order

  • Through repetition, circulation, and expansion, these fantasies, desires, and facts merge to construct the “reality” of the migrant communities
  • Like the case of refugees, Chinese peasant migrants’ spatial mobility and perceived rootlessness are frequently interpreted in urban public discourse as the result of lack of moral and social responsibility
  • The drug culture is indirectly related to the majority of robbery cases
  • By essentializing criminality and attributing it to migrant suzhi, such discourse simply designates a scapegoat and thus fails to locate the structural origin of urban crime

Chapter 7 – The Demolition of Zhejiangcun

  • Analyzing the underlying political motivations of the demolition campaign reveals that the concerns of upper-level governments were quite different from that of lower-level government officials
  • Many migrants believed that the demolition campaign was used by the city government to regain its waning legitimacy. Cleaning out had the symbolic significance of destroying the influence of the old regime
  • Socioeconomic alliances among local government, migrants, and locals complicate the nearly divided conceptual model of state versus society. What was displayed during the campaign was multiple repositionings of diversely located state agencies and social elements

Chapter 8 – Displacement and Revitalization

  • Contrary to official and media portrayals, which equated migrants with crime and disorder, the locals saw migrants as a source of prosperity
  • Like most other political campaigns in China, the cleansing of Wenzhou migrant community came quickly, did a lot of damage, and disappeared just as fast as it had come
  • The ultimate intention of the campaign to clean up Zhejiangcun was not to erase the community altogether, but to weaken its formation of nonstate power and turn into a regulated regime of private capital


  • Without their previously established economic power, enduring social solidarity, and sustained connections with the residents and state agents, such a quick return and revitalization would not have been possible
  • Economic privatization and the growth of free-market forces will not necessarily lead to the decline of state power and an increase in horizontal social ties and trust

Carl E. Walter and Fraser J. T. Howie – Red Capitalism

Chapter 1 – Looking Back at the Policy of Reform

  • Initiatives of the Jiang/Zhu program: SOD and bank reform; stock markets; international IPOs; accession to the WTO
  • FDI created an entirely new economy, the non-state sector; money raised on capital markets has gone to creating and strengthening companies inside the system
  • Zhu/Zhou’s framework to pursue comprehensive reform of the financial markets since 1998: creation of bad banks; strengthening of good banks; a national social security fund; bond markets with a broader investor base; stock markets open to meaningful foreign participation; a start to currency reform. The drift ended in 2005
  • The character of China’s style of capitalism is marked deeply by how by how the political elite have coalesced around certain institutions, corporations and economic sectors

Chapter 2 – China’s Fortress Banking System

  • In the past decade, equity as a percentage of total capital raised has been in the single digits as compared with loans and debt
  • A basic flaw in institutional design of the banks in early days: they were organized in line with the government administrative system
  • The collapse of GITIC led to the closure of hundreds of trust companies across the country, and it initiated a serious effort to centralize control of the Big 4 banks in Beijing’s hands
  • Improved NPL ratios over the past 10 years suggest a dramatic improvement in the willingness of SOE clients to meet their loan commitments, and the selection of investment projects that actually generate real cash flow
  • The growth model of China banks requires them to come to the capital markets every few years

Chapter 3 – The Fragile Fortress

  • With the “perpetual put” option available, bank management need care little about loan valuations, credit and risk controls. They can simply outsource lending mistakes to the AMCs, and the AMCs will be almost automatically funded by the PBOC
  • “Great Leap Forward Lending” over 2009-11
  • China’s massive foreign exchange reserves give a false appearance of wealth because Beijing’s ability to use its reserves internationally is limited
  • In China, political imperatives make significant internationalization of the banks unlikely. The Big 4 banks form the very core of the Party’s political power
  • If the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997 caused one set of Chinese leaders to see the need for true transformational reform of the financial system, the global crisis of 2008 has had the opposite effect on the current generation of leadership

Chapter 4 – China’s Capitive Bond Market

  • What makes China’s bond markets primitive is their lack of risk and the market’s ability to measure and price different levels of it
  • If China’s fixed income market is to develop, there must be an increase in bond trading. Trading remains very limited compared to the total stock of bonds
  • The difficulties with over-reliance on the retail market: small issue sizes, high cost, shorter maturities, and the fact that there was no secondary market prevented the development of benchmark interest rates and meaningful yield curves
  • China’s banks are fully exposed to both interest rate-related and credit-induced write-downs in the value of their fixed income securities portfolios

Chapter 5 – The Struggle over China’s Bond Markets

  • With its rapid growth in early 2000s, CDB became the darling of those supporting a return to both a more state-planned economy domestically and a natural resource-based foreign policy internationally
  • As a policy bank, the CDB funds itself through debt issuance in the markets, and China’s bond markets are fully reliant on the commercial banks and the PBOC for support
  • In 2009 and 2010, conditions were perfect for local governments to do all in their power to raise funds, with little possibility of their being blamed for financial excess
  • Local governments directly and through their agencies have borrowed the equivalent of 27 percent of the country’s GDP largely in just the two years of 2009 and 2010
  • CIC is at best only a part-time sovereign wealth fund. Its most important role is to serve as the linchpin of China’s financial system
  • Viewed from the outside, bank profits reassure retail depositors that their banks are sound and their deposits safe. International investors support bank shares since they are seen as proxies of a bank-driven GDP number. The banks use household deposits and new equity capital to fund new loans to drive GDP and to support the conceit that is China’s debt capital market, which sustains the appearance of overall convergence toward a Western-style market system

Chapter 6 – Western Finance, SOE Reform, and China’s Stock Markets

  • The IPO of China Mobile demonstrated to Beijing how it could overcome the regional fragmentation of its industrial sector and, with huge amounts of cash raised internationally, create powerful companies with national markets
  • This was not the IPO of an existing company with a proven management team in place with a strategic plan to expand operations. It would be much closer to the truth to say that this was an IPO of the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications itself

Chapter 7 – The National Team and China’s Government

  • The architecture of the entire SASAC arrangement bears the hallmarks of the Soviet-style ministry system abolished by Zhu in 1998. In that system, SOEs reported directly to their respective ministries and were administratively managed by them
  • IPO prices are set artificially low while demand is set high. This approach eliminates underwriting risk but also eliminates the need for investors to understand companies or the industries in which they operate to arrive at a judgment as to valuation
  • The Chinese market simply doesn’t have natural stock investors; everybody is a speculator. The high trading volume in the market are its most misleading characteristic since they give outside observers the impression that it is a proper market. In fact, in China, all that the volume represents is excess liquidity

Chapter 8 – The Forbidden City

  • In China, the different regulators have over the past few years created so-called independent kingdoms; effective coordination across these fiefdoms had been difficult in the apparent absence of strong political leadership
  • The debt buildup is not just the result of a weak hand at the financial tiller. It may also be accurate to say that these increases are the result of the government deliberately leveraging China’s domestic balance sheet to achieve its policy goal of high GDP growth
  • The offshore RMB market bears no relation to the broader onshore market or its economic conditions. Bonds are issued more cheaply offshore than they would be in China because of the huge demand for even the smallest yield enhancement on the growing pool of RMB deposits
  • Given China’s geographical size and huge population, it is unlikely that its economy will grind to a halt in the way that Japan’s did after its magnificent run in the 1980s. China knows well that when Japan freed up the yen to appreciate and deregulated its financial markets, it was entering the last stage of its wild asset bubble
  • What is the advantage of creating such a complex and difficult-to-manage financial system? 1) an important catalyst for corporate transformation; 2) a mechanism allowing money to flow among various groups; 3) a familiar surface for local business and politics that attracts foreign support and admiration
  • The Chinese commonly explain the complexity of their system saying: “Our economy is different from the West, so our markets work differently from those in the West.” It turns out that this is a simple statement of the truth