China has pivoted away from export-oriented development towards a strategy of domestic urban and infrastructural construction. This pivot is especially visible in rural China, where migrant laborers withstand uniquely low wages by relying on subsistence farming practices. Yet, at the same time, this low-waged labor system is disrupted by an ongoing urbanization boom which terminates rural land-use rights. I argue that two political institutions prop up contradictory developmental dynamics. First, China’s localized welfare policies strip rural workers of social rights in cities, which compel them to maintain rural households to supplement their low urban wages. China’s decentralized fiscal system, however, simultaneously requires rural governments to fund social expenditures for a labor force employed elsewhere, which they do by commoditizing and acquiring financing through rural land sales. Such land commoditization disrupts rural-urban labor migration, however, because it removes the rural wage supplement that enables migrants to withstand low wages.
Julia Chuang is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at Boston College. Her research uses ethnography to show how the movement of people shapes global economic processes. Her book manuscript, The Changing Foundations of Chinese Development, applies this method to the Chinese economy. It follows labor brokers and migrant workers as they move between the villages where they live and the cities where they work. Her book shows how their migrations reflect ongoing tensions and changes in the way Chinese markets – and their reliance on labor and land in particular – operate today. Publications from this project have appeared in Gender & Society, Journal of Peasant Studies and The China Quarterly.
Professor Chuang received a PhD in 2014 from the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. From 2014 to 2016 she was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University.
This event is part of the 2018 Winter Colloquia; An Expanding Toolkit: The Evolution of Governance in China
China has undergone historic economic, social and cultural transformations since its Opening and Reform. Leading scholars explore expanding repertoires of control that this authoritarian regime – both central and local – are using to manage social fissures, dislocation and demands. What new strategies of governance has the Chinese state devised to manage its increasingly fractious and dynamic society? What novel mechanisms has the state innovated to pre-empt, control and de-escalate contention? China Program’s 2018 Winter Colloquia Series highlights cutting-edge research on contemporary means that various levels of the Chinese state are deploying to manage both current and potential discontent from below.