CSC China Perspectives series
Edited by Beatriz Carrillo and David S.G. Goodman
Chapter 4: Chinese migrant workers: factors constraining the emergence of class consciousness*
Anita Chan and Kaxton Siu
Labour protests in China, particularly among the so-called ‘new generations of peasant-workers’ (xinshengdai nongmingong), have been increasing during the past decade. Every time an explosive strike breaks out and receives publicity outside China, it stirs up excitement among labour sympathizers. Great expectations are sometimes placed on the disturbances, in the belief that it heralds a rising consciousness of collective interests among workers. Is this indeed the case? These workers are young, fresh from the countryside, heading straight from the fields into factories that are usually located in new industrial zones cut offfrom urban areas. This does not at first sight seem a likely group to exhibit any collective identity. Is this new generation indeed developing a strong working class consciousness? Exponents of the thesis that migrant workers are developing class consciousness do not contend that this is yet at a high level. Even scholars such as Ngai Pun and Huilin Lu (2010, p. 512), who optimistically point to the migrant workers’ potential to mount collective challenges, still characterize ‘the second generation of peasant-workers’, who are seen as more conscious than the first generation, as ‘gradually [our emphasis] becoming aware of its class position’.
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