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Home  /  Inside China  /  Woju - Dwelling Narrowness - The Eternal Quest for a Better Lifestyle
Woju - Dwelling Narrowness - The Eternal Quest for a Better Lifestyle print version
Based on a 2007 novel by Liuliu, Woju 蜗居, 'Dwelling Narrowness' has become a popular TV series in 2009, addressing urban social problems directly, though gently.

This is not your typical soap-opera, if it can be considered one at all. The plot is not lingering and never-ending, on the one hand, and on the other, the episodes aren't boosted with intense drama. Eventually, the 35 episodes (33 were aired in mainland China) do reach a climax with a very high drama concentration, and the series isn't free of themes such as death and unfaithfulness, but one shouldn't expect to find a corny show here.

Wojo 蜗居 literally means 'snail residence', though in common speech this expression is parallel to 'humble abode' in English, modest and low-standard place of residence. The two protagonists are two sisters, 郭海萍 Guo Haiping and 郭海藻 Guo Haizao. The first moves with her husband 苏淳 Su Chun to a one bedroom apartment in the fictional city of Jiangzhou 江州 (in many aspects this city resembles present day Shanghai, including the 'shíkùmén' 石库门, the architectural style of the residental building in which the couple live, which exists mainly in Shanghai). The younger sister moves in with the couple later on and attends university nearby. Meanwhile, Hai Ping and Su Chun have their first baby girl, who they painfully leave with the mother's parents who live far away, until they will obtain better living conditions. After this short introduction, the story skips four years forward, and deals with the challenges the two sisters continue to face in the big city, which also contain some humor and warm inter-personal relationships.

The real estate bubble, in which apartment prices in China grew dramatically (2005-2009) is well presented in Woju. The couple's ongoing frustration due to their struggle to find a suitable apartment is evident in every episode. Having enough money for a down payment for a house is quite an impossible task. Still, although the series deals with social gaps in the big city, the main characters are never 100% helpless. Within their struggles they manage to find decent jobs, save money, remain cheerful and also decline several apartment offers. Woju doesn't deal so much with the low-class, but rather focuses on the sometimes small, yet stable gap between the urban middle class and the class which lies underneath, 'middle class wannabes' perhaps.

Nothing is easy, though nothing is hopeless nor black and white. There are no 'bad' characters, although Jiangzhou isn't free of exploitation. The character which represents this ambiguity best is 宋思明 Song Siming, a government official, who gets involves with Haizao after the latter accompanies him in several excursions within her work duties. Their relationship involves some sincere emotion, but is also induced by Haizao's gratefulness for Song's generosity and willingness to help her sister with the down payment for a new apartment (although for him this is very small money). Song is unfaithful to his wife, and later on is even arrested in the charges of corruption, but still is far from being portrayed as a selfish 'bad guy'.

Without becoming greedy, without pitying themselves and without ceasing to believe that hard work could lead to the promise land, Haizao, Haiping and Su Chun manage to realize some of their dreams while slowly understanding that patience is a very essential component for a new comer to the big city.

Although an adaptation of a novel into popular TV series normally results in many modifications of the plot and style, Woju does manage to express both the glumness and humor which are present in Liuliu's writing. 


The Woju page of is found here.

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