Shanghai Cosmopolitan: class, gender and cultural citizenship in Weihui’s Shanghai Babe

Journal of Contemporary China (2003), 12(37), November,
639–653Shanghai Cosmopolitan: class, gender
and cultural citizenship in Weihui’s
Shanghai Babe
DEIRDRE SABINA KNIGHT*
In Weihui’s banned novel, Shanghai Babe (1999), the social effects of globalization can be
seen in changing ethical discourses concerning what it is to be a responsible citizen, friend
or lover. Beginning with a discussion of cosmopolitanism and cultural citizenship, this
paper explores how class inequalities and gender hierarchies undercut these ideals. For
while the novel celebrates cosmopolitan choice and cultural empowerment, its plot also
foregrounds the fragility of interpersonal commitments in the face of market capitalism’s
promotion of both a culture of immediate pleasure and an elite culture based on deferred
gratification. Similarly, the novel celebrates sexual freedom, but its graphic accounts of the
protagonist’s sado-masochistic affair with a married German businessman may leave
readers wary of the dangers of transgressing conventional norms.What are the implications of Zhou Weihui’s banned novel, Shanghai Babe (1999),
for recent debates on cosmopolitanism and cultural citizenship? What does the
novel suggest about the persistent roles of class and gender in the definitions and
pursuits of these ideals? What does the novel reveal about globalization’s effects
on national cultural identitiesWritten by the risque? young Shanghai-based writer Weihui, Shanghai Babe
chronicles a little over a year in the life of CoCo, a 25-year-old Shanghai novelist.1
The story revolves around CoCo’s emotionally fraught betrayal of her impotent
lover Tiantian, her sado-masochistic affair with a married German businessman,
and her process of writing a novel that appears to be Shanghai Babe since CoCo
at one point reads aloud verbatim from an earlier passage (pp. 14, 39–40).2
The novel underscores issues of both cosmopolitan and local cultural citizenship
that have…