“Ten, nine, eight, oh look at that. It’s midnight. Happy New Year,” my friend scoffed. I curled my toes so that I can feel them. It was bitterly cold and I had been trying to find a taxi home since 10:30 p.m. More than 300,000 eager partiers had already congregated by the Shanghai waterfront for a light show, which turned out to be cancelled. By 8:30 p.m., I was determined to go home. I wandered around the streets of Shanghai, wobbled in my five-inch heels and wished that I had worn Eskimo gear in lieu of a “New Year’s Eve dress,” as suggested by online shopping guides. When I finally got a cab and arrived home at 2 a.m., I had developed a shivering fit that stayed with me for two weeks. During my January first’s obligatory “happy new year” texting spree, I saw the headline: Shanghai’s New Year’s Eve Stampede kills 36.
That could have been my friends, or me, had I chosen not to spend the night looking for a taxi. Although there was not a comprehensive report on the cause of the stampede, speculations suggested that fake bills or coupons thrown from a high-rise building caused the uproar. Thirty-six lost their lives and an additional 47 people were hurt. Furthermore, those who died were mainly women in their 20s and 30s who had migrated to Shanghai to study or work. The youngest death was a 12-year-old boy, and given China’s one-child policy, this means that many parents, who came out of poverty and had invested life savings for their child to live in the big city, are now childless and penniless.
During the holidays in America, there is a different version of a stampede: Black Friday. According to a website dedicated to tallying these casualties, there have been 7 deaths and 98 injuries since 2006. This unofficial holiday is class conscious in nature, because it sheds light on the wealth disparity between those who wait two days in line for the flat screen, and those who watch the former group from their flat screens in mild disgust, murmuring something about excessive materialism. Today, Black Friday starts on Thursday and extends to Cyber Monday. Others call the event the entire month of November. The degree to which Black Friday is associated with the apocalyptic struggle for barcodes and hangers illustrates a dark habit created in American collective consciousness. According to Gallup, Black Friday shoppers are most likely to be non-white women in the age range 18 to 29, sounding suspiciously similar to the demographics of the victims in Shanghai.
It is frightening that amidst wanting to see a cancelled light show, grappling after bills that are out of reach or reaching for electronics, that those sacrificed or engaged in the name of fleeting cosmopolitan promises are underprivileged by sex, ethnic origin or city of residence. In both instances, stampedes commence in the name of newness, be it a New Year or new shoes. Yet very old, very real conditions sustain these occurrences: cultural reverence towards capitalist ventures at all costs. I am not crafting this comparison as leftist banter to attack all businesses. Rather, this is a sober inspection on the casualties of careless capitalist ventures. When headlines of stampedes reveal faces of similar demographics, there is something to be said about how young, minority women are marked by their social or material capital.
Follow Justina Huang on Twitter: @huanderwoman