Middle Class Shanghai: Reshaping U.S.-China Engagement
By Cheng Li
Brookings Institution Press, 2021, 484 pp.
Based on decades of original research, this book provides a nuanced counterpoint to alarmist caricatures of China and its citizens by exploring the diversity and dynamism of Shanghai and its large middle class. The city’s progressive outlook and eclectic culture stem from its history as a vital port town teeming with bankers, industrialists, architects, and missionaries from around the world. Its avant-garde political ferment gave birth to the revolutionary Chinese Communist Party in 1921. Present-day Shanghai is a cosmopolitan metropolis with the most skyscrapers, international banks, cafés, and art galleries in China. Surveys show that the city’s residents are significantly more concerned than the wider population about numerous political and environmental issues, including climate change, inequality, the plight of migrant workers, and government accountability. In China’s major cities, U.S.-trained professionals now hold leadership positions in academia, law, business, the creative arts, and even politics. Li makes the persuasive case that this middle class can help improve relations between China and the United States. He recommends a U.S. strategy of engagement with, rather than decoupling from, China, one that is sensitive to these dynamics and works toward pursuing shared goals.