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Unhomely Life

Modernity, Mobilities and the Making of Home in China

Su, Xiaobo

RGS-IBG Book Series


1. Edition May 2024
256 Pages, Softcover
Wiley & Sons Ltd

ISBN: 978-1-394-17630-4
John Wiley & Sons

Further versions


How do Chinas mobile individuals create a sense of home in a rapidly changing world?

Unhomely life, different from houselessness, refers to a fluctuating condition between losing home feelings and the search for home -- a prevalent condition in post-Mao China. The faster that Chinese society modernizes, the less individuals feel at home, and the more they yearn for a sense of home. This is the central paradox that Xiaobo Su explores: how mobile individuals--lifestyle migrants and retreat tourists from China's big cities, displaced natives and rural migrants in peripheral China--handle the loss of home and try to experience a homely way of life.

In Unhomely Life, Xiaobo Su examines the subjective experiences of mobile individuals to better understand why they experience the loss of home feelings and how they search for home. Integrating extensive empirical data and a robust theoretical framework, the author presents a journey-based critical analysis of "home" under constant making, un-making, and re-making in post-Mao China. Su argues that the making of home is not a solely economic or rational calculation for maximum return, but rather a synthesis of resistance and compromise under the disappointing conditions of modernity.

Offering rich insights into the continuity and disruption of China's great transformation, Unhomely Life:
* Develops an original theory of unhomely life that incorporates contemporary research and traditional Chinese ideas of home
* Explores the process of homemaking and its implications for understanding the costs of high-speed economic growth in China
* Analyzes mobile individuals across different genders, ages, ethnicities, social classes, and economic backgrounds to address the balance between meaning and money in everyday life

Containing in-depth and sophisticated empirical data collected from 2002 to 2020, Unhomely Life: Modernity, Mobilities, and the Making of Home in China is an invaluable resource for advanced undergraduates, graduate students, lecturers, and academic researchers in cultural studies, migration, tourism, China studies, cultural anthropology, sociology, and social and cultural geography.

Preface and Acknowledgments ix

Notes on Fieldwork xiv

1. Introduction: From Xiangtu China to Unhomely China 1

Modernity as a Deal 10

Two Dimensions of Uneven Mobilities 15

Lijiang Old Town: The Case 19

Structure of the Book 27

Notes 29

2. A Sense of Home in China: Then and Now 31

Home: An Ensemble of Representations and Experiences 32

A Sense of Home in Traditional Chinese Culture 40

Home as a Destination for Return 41

Home as a Balanced Way of Living 46

Modernization and Loss of Home Feelings in Post- Mao China 50

Unhomely Life: An Analytic Framework 59

Notes 65

3. Lifestyle Migration and the (Un)making of an Ideal Home 68

Representing Lijiang as an Ideal Home 70

Making Home in its Material and Lived Aspects 75

Unmaking Home: The Spatial Politics of Belonging and Alienation 83

External Pressure for Home Unmaking 83

Internal Struggle between Here and There 86

Divergence between Busyness and Slowness 89

Conclusion: The Ambivalence of an Ideal Home 92

Notes 95

4. The Act of Retreat: Tourism, Loafing, and the Consumption of Home 96

Solitude and a Natural Way of Living 98

Loafing through Socialization 105

Regarding Lijiang Old Town as a Home 109

Being Unhomely in a Mobile World 113

Conclusion 117

Notes 119

5. Displacing Native Residents: Money, Meaning, and the Remaking of Home 120

A Sense of Home in the Town 122

A True Love for Courtyard Houses 123

A Close- knit Community in the Town 125

From Familiar to Strange: In- situ Displacement 129

Age Difference: Departure or Stay 134

Making and Remaking Home in Daily Life: Four Stories 140

Story 1: Making a Home for Tourists 141

Story 2: Promoting Naxi Culture for Profit 143

Story 3: The Life Cycle of a New Lijiang Local 145

Story 4: Being at Home Forever 149

Conclusion 153

Note 155

6. Hometown Babies: Immobility and Lijiang Locals' Struggles for Home 156

Speed and Slowness: The Supply of Homely Service to the Old Town 158

Guesthouse A'Jie and the Commodification of Domestic Work 158

Delivery A'Ge and Time Discipline 161

Freelance Workers for Tourists 164

Free Time, Away from Lijiang Old Town 166

Pain and Joy: Embracing Hometown in Lijiang 169

The Shadow of Patriarchal Society 169

In Celebration of Hometown Babies 172

Stay and Departure: The Longing for Settlement 176

Conclusion 182

Notes 185

7. Homemaking in a Relentless World 186

The Politics of Homemaking in Lijiang 188

Remembering Home in China: By Whom and for What? 195

Being Unhomely in Modern Times 200

Notes 205

References 206

Index 221
Xiaobo Su is a Professor of Urban and Regional Development in the Department of Geography at the University of Oregon. He is the co-author of The Politics of Heritage Tourism in China: A View from Lijiang and serves on the editorial boards of Geopolitics and Tourism Tribute. His research investigates China's transformation from a planned economy to a market economy, focused on urban and regional development, tourism, migration, urban entrepreneurialism, and border politics.

X. Su, University of Oregon, USA