Waving the Red Flag: Cultural Memory and
Grassroots Protest in Housing Disputes in Shanghai

By Qin Shao

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 22, no. 1 (Spring 2010), pp. 197-231

This article deals with the use of Maoist cultural memory in a time of crisis–grassroots protest over forced eviction and other housing disputes–in a Shanghai neighborhood. Housing reform and large-scale construction projects that involve domicide–the destruction of homes against the will of residents–have in recent decades generated contentious grassroots activities in urban China. In the case detailed below, the residents-turned-protesters flew the national flag on their property, sang “The Internationale” in public, and formed a “Legal Study Forum” in the fashion of a Maoist small study group to organize themselves. But did such a re-appropriation of Maoist, official cultural repertoire reflect nostalgia for the past and an attachment to the Mao era, as demonstrated by worker protesters elsewhere? What are the relations between a market economy and revolutionary rhetoric and between crisis and memory? Based on fieldwork in Shanghai, this study emphasizes that the specific location and identity of the protesters–a group of distressed homeowners and aspiring homeowners in coastal China in this case, not desperate workers in interior China–make a major difference in the meaning of invoking Maoist cultural remains. In fact, the protest in this neighborhood raises critical questions about both the Chinese Communist Party’s identity and legitimacy and the cultural memory itself. This article thus provides a comparative case to those on workers and peasants elsewhere in the study of different patterns of identity, popular protest, cultural memory, and the impact of the reform.