Chinese Migrant Workers’ Everyday Lives in the Early 1990s and Late 2000s

  • Kaxton SiuEmail author
Part of the Series in Asian Labor and Welfare Policies book series (Series in Asian Labor and Welfare Policies)


In this chapter, I first focus on the work conditions and the perspectives of Chinese migrant industrial workers in the early 1990s through a careful examination of 76 private letters and show how state, capital, and patriarchal powers dominated workers’ everyday lives. The bulk of the chapter focuses on the current situation. I show how, two decades later, by the early years of the 2010s, Chinese migrant workers’ lives had changed significantly compared to the early 1990s. Workers’ social and material lives as well as their social values had altered, shifting toward increased urbanism, individualism, and a keen awareness of consumerism. All these changes are captured in my ethnography of workers’ everyday life practices.


  1. Alexander, P., & Chan, A. (2004). Does China have an apartheid pass system? Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 30(4), 609–629.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. All-China Federation of Trade Unions. (2010). Guanyu xinshengdai nongmingong wenti de yanjiu baogao [Research report on the problems of the new generation of migrant workers]. In Research Institute on Chinese Labor Movement (Ed.), Xinshengdai nongmingong: Wenti, yanpan, duice jianyi [New generation of migrant workers: Problem, research, policy suggestions]. Beijing: Zhongguo Gongren Chubanshe.Google Scholar
  3. Burawoy, M. (1985). The politics of production: Factory regimes under capitalism and socialism. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  4. Chan, A. (2001). China’s workers under assault: The exploitation of labor in a globalizing economy. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.Google Scholar
  5. Chan, A. (2002). The culture of survival: Lives of migrant workers through the prism of private letters. In R. Madsen, E. P. Link, & P. Pickowicz (Eds.), Popular China: Unofficial culture in a globalizing society (pp. 163–188). Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.Google Scholar
  6. Chan, C. K. C., & Ngai, P. (2009). The making of a new working class? A study of collective actions of migrant workers in South China. The China Quarterly, 198, 287–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cheng, T., & Selden, M. (1994). The origins and social consequences of China’s hukou system. The China Quarterly, 139, 644–668.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Choi, S. Y. P., & Peng, Y. (2013). Mobile phone use among migrant factory workers in South China: Technologies of power and resistance. The China Quarterly, 215, 553–571.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Foucault, M. (1979). Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  10. Kipnis, A. B. (2011). Governing educational desire: Culture, politics, and schooling in China. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Lee, C. K. (1998). Gender and the South China miracle: Two worlds of factory women. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  12. Marx, K. (1976). Capital: A critique of political economy (Vol. 1, B. Fowkes, Trans.). London: Penguin in association with New Left Review.Google Scholar
  13. Orwell, G. (1959). The road to Wigan Pier. London: Secker & Warburg.Google Scholar
  14. Pollard, S. (1963). Factory discipline in the industrial-revolution. Economic History Review, 16(2), 254–271.Google Scholar
  15. Pun, N. (2005). Made in China: Women factory workers in a global workplace. Durham, NC, London and Hong Kong: Duke University Press; Hong Kong University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Pun, N., & Yan, R. (2009). The absence of state role in the labor reproduction of migrant workers. Chinese Sociology & Anthropology, 42(1), 51–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Simmel, G. (1950). The sociology of Georg Simmel (K. H. Wolff, Trans.). Glencoe, IL: Free Press.Google Scholar
  18. Simmel, G. (1990). The philosophy of money (D. Frisby & T. Bottomore, Trans.). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  19. Solinger, D. J. (1999). Contesting citizenship in urban China: Peasant migrants, the state, and the logic of the market. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  20. Thompson, E. P. (1966). The making of the English working class. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  21. Thompson, E. P. (1967). Time, work-discipline, and industrial capitalism. Past & Present, 38, 56–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Hong Kong Polytechnic UniversityKowloonHong Kong

Personalised recommendations