domestic space

domestic space
Privacy has long been a luxury for most Chinese because of high population density and lack of adequate living space. Nevertheless, a distinction between domestic and public spaces has always existed. Traditionally, a gradation of publicness and privateness spans the typical household spatially from the main gate of the courtyard to the innermost bedchambers. Guests are received in the living room and only social intimates are allowed into the kitchen and the bedrooms. In rural areas where land is more plentiful, the ideal of the one-family enclosed courtyard house can be realized. In cramped urban homes, however, often one single room is used for living, dining and sleeping for the entire family. This lack of privacy does not stop people from hosting relatives and friends. During the Maoist era especially, people visited one another at home (chuanmen: ‘going from door to door’) a lot more because there was a paucity of public places for hanging out. The relative homogeneity of all the homes in terms of decor and furnishing also encouraged mutual visiting with an equalitarian ethos.
The cluster-style, wall-enclosed ‘work-unit’-assigned housing complexes are conducive to socializing in the public ‘big courtyard’ (dayuan). The housing revolution during the reform era, coupled with the success of the one-child policy, increased the per capita square-footage living space significantly in urban China. Following real estate developments, more and more families are moving ‘out’ into the city’s peripheries and ‘up’ into high-rise apartment buildings. The social intimacy of the old neighbourhood and ‘work-unit’ complex is replaced by the anonymity of the elevator halls. Though much bigger and prettier now, the homes are increasingly becoming a private haven rather than a place to entertain and ho st guests. The hourly or live-in maid of rural origin has also become an important presence in urban domestic space, relieving the working couple of domestic duties of caretaking the elderly and children, cleaning, grocery shopping, cooking and laundry. Because of persistent Chinese cooking practices (i.e. stir-frying that produces a large quantity of oil vapours), the kitchen remains a space for chores separate and sealed off from the rest of the home (versus the American spatial practice of entertaining guests inside or from the kitchen).
Fraser, David (2000). ‘Inventing Oasis: Luxury Housing Advertisements and Reconfiguring Domestic Space in Shanghai’. In Deborah Davis (ed.), The Consumer Revolution in Urban China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 25–53.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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