New Masters, New Servants: Migration, Development, and Women Workers in China

New Masters, New Servants: Migration, Development, and Women Workers in China

by Hairong Yan
Pub. Date:
Duke University Press Books
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New Masters, New Servants: Migration, Development, and Women Workers in China

On March 9, 1996, tens of thousands of readers of a daily newspaper in China’s Anhui province saw a photograph of two young women at a local long-distance bus station. Dressed in fashionable new winter coats and carrying luggage printed with Latin letters, the women were returning home from their jobs in one of China’s large cities. As the photo caption indicated, the image represented the “transformation of migrant women”; the women’s “transformation” was signaled by their status as consumers. New Masters, New Servants is an ethnography of class dynamics and the subject formation of migrant domestic workers. Based on her interviews with young women who migrated from China’s Anhui province to the city of Beijing to engage in domestic service for middle-class families, as well as interviews with employers, job placement agencies, and government officials, Yan Hairong explores what these migrant workers mean to the families that hire them, to urban economies, to rural provinces such as Anhui, and to the Chinese state. Above all, Yan focuses on the domestic workers’ self-conceptions, desires, and struggles.

Yan analyzes how the migrant women workers are subjected to, make sense of, and reflect on a range of state and neoliberal discourses about development, modernity, consumption, self-worth, quality, and individual and collective longing and struggle. She offers keen insight into the workers’ desire and efforts to achieve suzhi (quality) through self-improvement, the way workers are treated by their employers, and representations of migrant domestic workers on television and the Internet and in newspapers and magazines. In so doing, Yan demonstrates that contestations over the meanings of migrant workers raise broad questions about the nature of wage labor, market economy, sociality, and postsocialism in contemporary China.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822343042
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 12/08/2008
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 328
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.90(d)

Table of Contents

Preface vii

Introduction 1

1. The Emaciation of the Rural: "No Way Out" 25

2. Mind and Body, Gender and Class 53

Part I. "Intellectuals' Burdens" and Domestic Labor 57

Part II. Searching for the Proper Baomu 80

Intermezzo 1. A Survey of Employers 109

3. Suzhi as a New Human Value: Neoliberal Governance of Labor Migration 111

Intermezzo 2. Urban Folklore on Neoliberalism 139

4. A Mirage of Modernity: Pas de Deux of Consumption and Production 145

5. Self-Development and the Specter of Class 187

Intermezzo 3. Diary and Song 217

6. The Economic Law and Liminal Subjects 221

Notes 251

References 287

Index 307

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