The making of the new global middle class: China's workplace novels

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This essay focuses on the relation between cultural formation and economic development in post-socialist China, reading the (re)emergence of a literary form as a site of cultural negotiation regarding China's new relation to the world in the twenty-first century. As China's integration into the world economy has an increasing impact on international institutions and global affairs, China's recent "rise" has recalibrated the contours of globalization. Within the context of changing ideas of the "global," this paper concerns itself with questions of universality and particularity, wondering how "universal" values are normalized and naturalized in a global context, and how the Chinese example measures up to, modifies, and contends with the worldsystem that produces those normalizations. As part of an argument that literature does more than reflect certain historical activities, namely that it also carries within itself a vision of a micro-history, this essay reads contemporary China in the small. Specifically, the paper looks at the Chinese "workplace" novel, a new form whose genre - the Bildungsroman - is imbricated with the formation of the modern subject and modernity. My reading of the workplace novel focuses on its formal appropriation and transformation, attending to its relation to the "given universality" of international human rights law. The circulation of the Bildungsroman via the workplace novel in China at the turn of the twenty-first century challenges the historical narrative function of the Bildungsroman as it has been theorized on the basis of generally European examples.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)299-327
Number of pages29
JournalConcentric: Literary and Cultural Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2017


  • Asian values
  • Bildungsroman
  • The middle class
  • The rise of China
  • The workplace novel


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