Strangers in the City: Reconfigurations of Space, Power, and Social Networks Within China's Floating Population

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With rapid commercialization, a booming urban economy, and the relaxation of state migration policies, over 100 million peasants, known as China’s “floating population,” have streamed into large cities seeking employment and a better life. This massive flow of rural migrants directly challenges Chinese socialist modes of state control.

This book traces the profound transformations of space, power relations, and social networks within a mobile population that has broken through the constraints of the government’s household registration system. The author explores this important social change through a detailed ethnographic account of the construction, destruction, and eventual reconstruction of the largest migrant community in Beijing. She focuses on the informal privatization of space and power in this community through analyzing the ways migrant leaders build their power base by controlling housing and market spaces and mobilizing social networks.

The author argues that to gain a deeper understanding of recent Chinese social and political transformations, one must examine not only to what extent state power still dominates everyday social life, but also how the aims and methods of late socialist governance change under new social and economic conditions. In revealing the complexities and uncertainties of the shifting power and social relations in post-Mao China, this book challenges the common notion that sees recent changes as an inevitable move toward liberal capitalism and democracy.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Li Zhang's fascinating study of migrant workers in Beijing will add much to scholars' understanding of power structures in 'late-reform-era China.'"—Asian Affairs

"For all students and scholars wanting to understand the rapidly changing nature of the workforce in China's cities, Stangers in the City should be required reading. It is also a lively and extremely well written account of the struggle to survive (and sometimes thrive) in urban China."—Asian Affairs

"All in all, this is an excellent study of an important migrant community in China and adds a great deal to the existing scholarship on Chinese society and politics. The author struck a wonderful balance between social theory and ethnography, which serves as a model for any student interested in studying spatial politics and power relations in other kinds of communities in a non-Chinese context. For a study that draws liberally on contemporary social theories and postmodernist thinking, it is also pleasantly jargon free. I thus recommend this book highly not only to students of contemporary China, but to a wider readership interested in issues of migration, urbanization, and political change in postsocialist and developing countries."—The Journal of Asian Studies

"In short, this is an excellent ethnographic analysis and a moving piece of social commentary on China's late socialism."—American Journal of Sociology

"Strangers in the City is a valuable addition to our understanding of contemporary China. The issues it deals with are important ones in China and for anthropology."—American Ethnologist

Library Journal
Zhang (anthropology, Univ. of California, Davis)has reworked her dissertation into a readable though still scholarly study of China's "floating population," i.e., the one million peasants from Chinese rural areas who have "floated" into urban areas to form a workforce that has changed the dynamics of Chinese society, commerce, and power relations. Arguing that such changes symbolize post-Mao China's move toward democracy, Zhang centers her study around the largest migrant community who moved to Beijing from rural Wenzhou, establishing themselves in 48 large compounds. She explores the ways their leaders build power bases by controlling the market space and carefully details the many challenges they face, such as discrimination, crime, and governmental harassment. Background on China's system of household registry and some knowledge about migration within the country are needed to understand this study fully. Most suitable for academic libraries. Kitty Chen Dean, Nassau Community Coll., Garden City, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780804742061
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/2002
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 1,218,034
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Li Zhang is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Davis

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction 1
1 The Floating Population as Subjects 23
2 Commercial Culture, Social Networks, and Migration Passages 47
3 The Privatization of Space 69
4 The Privatization of Power 91
5 Reconfigurations of Gender, Work, and Household 115
6 Contesting Crime and Order 137
7 The Demolition of Zhejiangcun 159
8 Displacement and Revitalization 186
Conclusion 202
App Notes on the Conditions and Politics of Fieldwork 213
Notes 217
Glossary 231
References 243
Index 267
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