UBC Graduate Research

Value, Aspiration & Policy: How (and Why) Tomorrow's Middle Class China Moves Bennett, Zachary


China has a nation in the throes of massive economic growth since the late 1970s, a situation creating both benefits and pitfalls as the nation continues its headlong course of development. One of the major results of economic growth has been massive migration to urban areas and an increasingly globalized populace through the infiltration of Western media and entertainment. More recently, the explosive growth of private automobile ownership is asking new questions of cities throughout the country as they struggle to cope with congestion, pollution, and issues of spatial allocation and equity in society. There is the suggestion that an increasingly materialistic and Western values system is a factor in the generation gap felt between groups in the nation. This paper addresses the views of middle-­‐ class youth in Shenzhen, a major southern city of China, and their perspective of some of the changes occurring in Chinese society. The method of assessment was a survey asking about their views on transportation, personal values, and reactions to hypothetical transportation policies. The results demonstrate the hold that the automobile has on the collective imagination of youth. There is also evidence that as incomes rise and cars become normalized, the expectation of future ownership increases, pushing the car from a luxury item into the mainstream for middle-­‐class aspirants. Despite the presence of materialism, Western values do not seem to play a major role in the attitude of students towards cars, and potential policies either promoting transit or restricting private vehicles were met by strong pushback, though the policies would result in moving more trips to transit. Overall, the pace of motorization signals impending disaster, both from a municipal management and a broader environmental stance and efforts should be encouraged within China to manage the growth and usage of private automobiles in the urban arena.

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