Home Institution

Duke University

Publication Date

Spring 2016

Program Name

China: Language, Cultures, and Ethnic Minorities


China is currently undergoing one of the largest domestic migration movements in its history, as hundreds of millions of its citizens move out of their countryside homes into urban areas to seek work in the wake of the nation’s rapid globalization. This paper examines the lives of these migrants – how much agency they have over their decisions and their destinies while simultaneously subject to overarching controls set onto them by economic circumstance, government laws, and cultural traditions. It explores how they subvert tradition and former government policies by leaving home, and how they respond when confronted with discrimination in the cities. It also examines how migrant workers of the Banli Electrical Appliance Factory in Yuyao, Zhejiang find ways to reconstruct their human identities and exercise independent decision-making despite being valued solely for their labor, using research conducted at this factory through guided conversation from six key informants and participative observation living in the factory and working on the assembly line from May 4 to May 20. Finally, it explores the connection that migrants have to their homes, through memories and money, and their decisions about returning.


Family, Life Course, and Society | Immigration Law | Inequality and Stratification | Labor Economics | Social and Cultural Anthropology


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