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.

Chapter 1: Status groups and classes in a Chinese village: from the Mao era through post-Mao industrialization

Jonathan Unger

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


During the past two decades, a community named Chen Village, located between the southern Chinese cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen, has industrialized enormously, and today some 60 000 people work in factories located in its territory. Along with two colleagues, I first began studying Chen Village in the 1970s when Mao still ruled China and the community was entirely agricultural. At that time, we conducted interviews in Hong Kong with more than two dozen villagers who had recently emigrated to Hong Kong to improve their economic circumstances. From the 1980s up to the present we have continued intermittently to keep abreast of village affairs through research visits to the village. This chapter will examine the extraordinary shifts in the social structure of Chen Village from the Maoist period through to its current industrialization and urbanization. The chapter will do so through the prism of status group and class in this community. In discussions of class and status, the founding fathers of the modern social sciences still loom large. Karl Marx, of course, is indelibly identified with the concept of class. Max Weber largely borrowed his own definition of class from Marx. Both men agreed that class is rooted in economic control over property and the division of labour. But they differed in an essential respect.

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