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Critical Asian Studies

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China, Migrant workers


Post-socialist China is characterized by the loss of social and economic safety nets for workers, particularly the most marginalized. Scholars and others have assumed that informal laborers lack the associational power needed to mitigate the precarity of their lives. Drawing on ethnographic data collected between 2004 and 2016 in Chongqing, this article examines the ways in which precariously employed rural migrant men create their own safety nets by drawing on their past experiences of agricultural collectivization in the socialist era to form cooperative associations. It further explores how these men leverage cultural resources from the socialist period to retain male privileges. China’s decades of de-ideologized reforms and waves of informalization of work have not completely deprived migrant workers of the moral and symbolic resources which they use to make claims. Migrant informal laborers’ capacity for collective resistance in post-socialist times is deeply entwined with their gendered experience of work in rural, pre-reform China.


© 2020 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group

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