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The discourse of “new Shanghai people” that has become pervasive in discussions of the city’s future development represents an attempt to articulate Shanghai identity to broader nationalist imaginaries originally suspicious of the city, a means by which the city can repay a perceived debt to the nation. This discourse hinges on a disjunction between what the city is on the one hand, and what it can and in fact should become on the other. It ordinarily takes the form, implicitly or explicitly, of exhortation. In this understanding of development as a willed project, indeed, a leap in consciousness, rather than a natural process, the city as concept takes priority over the city as lived experience and in-migrants are preferred to natives of the city. Paradoxically, in the nonstate sphere it turns out to be for-profit enterprises that are most free to make this philosophical case for enacting a Shanghai uniqueness that lives up to preconceived ideas about the city.

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