Rural Origins, City Lives

Class and Place in Contemporary China

Roberta Zavoretti

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  • Published: December 2016
  • Subject Listing: Asian Studies / China; Anthropology
  • Bibliographic information: 220 pp., 1 map, 6 x 9 in.
  • Contents

Many of the millions of workers streaming in from rural China to jobs at urban factories soon find themselves in new kinds of poverty and oppression. Yet, their individual experiences are far more nuanced than popular narratives might suggest. Rural Origins, City Lives probes long-held assumptions about migrant workers in China. Drawing on fieldwork in Nanjing, Roberta Zavoretti argues that many rural-born urban-dwellers are-contrary to state policy and media portrayals-heterogeneous in their employment, lifestyle, and aspirations. Working and living in the cities, rural-born workers change China's urban landscape, becoming part of an increasingly diversified and stratified society. Zavoretti finds that, over thirty years after the Open Door Reform, class formation, not residence status, is key to understanding inequality in contemporary China.
Roberta Zavoretti is a research associate at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology.

"A timely, smart, and rich study of everyday practices, struggles, dreams, and aspirations of rural migrants living in the city of Nanjing. This book makes a valuable contribution to the investigation of a number of issues central to China studies."
-Li Zhang, author of In Search of Paradise: Middle-Class Living in a Chinese Metropolis

"A very good ethnography of migrant workers in Nanjing. It shows us the lives of several different types of workers and contrasts the lived experience of interacting with these workers to the stereotypes about them."
-Andrew Kipnis, author of Governing Educational Desire: Culture, Politics, and Schooling in China

Introduction: The Paradigm of Rural to Urban
Migration in Contemporary China
1. Who Is a "Peasant Worker"?
2. Speaking of Oneself
3. A Place of Encounters
4. Earning, Spending, Consuming
5. Negotiating Success
Conclusion: Making Place, Making Class

"Rural Origins, City Lives does what good ethnography should do: it brings us into the grounded, life worlds of others in a way that forces us to question our broader assumptions and the categories that those assumptions are based on. That alone makes it a worthwhile and rewarding book."
-Tim Oakes, China Review International: A Journal of Reviews of Scholarly Literature in Chinese Studies