China’s Peasants and Workers: Changing Class Identities

China’s Peasants and Workers: Changing Class Identities

CSC China Perspectives series

Edited by Beatriz Carrillo and David S.G. Goodman

The expert contributors illustrate how the development of the urban economic environment has led to changes in the urban working class, through an exploration of the workplace experiences of rural migrant workers, and of the plight of the old working class in the state-owned sector. They address questions on the extent to which migrant workers have become a new working class, are absorbed into the old working class, or simply remain as migrant workers. Changes in class relations in villages in the urban periphery – where the urbanization drive and in-migration has lead to a new local politics of class differentiation – are also raised.

Introduction: the sociopolitical challenge of economic change - peasants and workers in transformation

Beatriz Carrillo and David S.G. Goodman

Subjects: asian studies, asian development, asian geography, asian politics and policy, asian urban and regional studies, development studies, asian development, politics and public policy, asian politics, urban and regional studies, regional studies, urban studies


Elizabeth Perry’s description of Shanghai at the turn of the twentieth century could easily be used to describe the city a century later. The Shanghai of the early 1900s was to become the site of China’s incipient organized labour movement, which had a critical influence on the future political configuration of the country. A century later, however, Shanghai is no longer the hub of radical labour politics, though other sites have emerged where the seeds of new labour movements are beginning to sprout. Following the premise that where capital goes labour conflict follows, Guangdong Province – one of China’s most important and dynamic sites of capitalist production – has experienced mounting labour unrest, with workers increasingly aware of and utilizing their collective bargaining power to demand better pay and working conditions. Even though it is impossible to predict whether the workers’ movements that have emerged there and elsewhere in the country will have the same or a similar political impact that the Shanghainese labour movement had a century earlier, it is undeniable that they have already influenced national policy and global production networks. The experience of organized mass labour movements in China and other contexts indicates not only the complexity of the relationship between labour, capital and the state, but also that the Marxist historical linearity – by which workers eventually achieve emancipation to become the masters of their own world – is anything but linear.