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 2: Awakening the God of Earth: land, place and class in urbanizing Guangdong*

Luigi Tomba

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


As well as the very visible revival of ancestral halls and ancestors’ temples across rural China, villages in Guangdong’s rapidly urbanizing countryside invariably feature small tudigong (Earth God) shrines, inhabited by terracotta or timber figures like the one in Figure 2.1, and generally located at the gates of the villages’ residential areas or in visible corners of the village (Dell’Orto, 2002). These smallish, ‘grandpa’-like figurines represent a well-established character, responsible for land and village affairs, in the ‘imperial metaphor’ (Feuchtwang, 2001) of the divine hierarchy. Its worship is generally associated with wealth, and its popularity is unabated, despite the rapid decline of agricultural activities in large parts of Guangdong. This apparent contradiction is easily reconciled. There have been structural changes in the local political economies, globalization of productive cycles, proletarianization of peasants, an influx of millions of migrant workers from other regions and a modernization of lifestyles; despite this, control over land and practices of place-making remain central elements in the production of social distinction, the shaping of status and the generation of wealth in contemporary Guangdong. Having been central to different phases of the Chinese revolution, land remains crucial to the reorganization of social and power relations in the urbanizing areas of Southern China.

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