China’s Peasants and Workers: Changing Class Identities
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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.
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Chapter 6: Working-class cultural spaces: comparing the old and the new

Jack Linchuan Qiu and Hongzhe Wang

Extract

Cultural transformation is central to class formation. In this chapter we understand culture to be the distinctive ways of expressing, articulating, and reproducing working-class life – especially through performing arts and exhibitions – that are essential to the class identity and class consciousness of China’s working classes, both old and new. We begin with three basic assumptions. First, culture, narrowly defined as such, always exists, although its content and means of expression vary over time. Second, different working-class groups have different working-class cultures that may or may not be congruent with each other. Third, when a culture materializes it produces cultural spaces – tangible built environments and intangible relationships such as through cyberspace – that embody and reflect the social structures of the working-class group being analysed. Our conception of class and class consciousness follows the cultural constructivist tradition of E.P. Thompson (1966), which emphasizes lived experiences and actual human relationships in historical processes ‘in the making’. This is a departure from the classic Marxist tradition, which assumes an almost deterministic relationship between economic and power structures (modes of production) on the one hand, and the formation of class and consciousness on the other.

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