The state, the migrant labor regime, and maiden workers in China

Type Journal Article - Political Geography
Title The state, the migrant labor regime, and maiden workers in China
Volume 23
Issue 3
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2004
Page numbers 283-305
Recent research (re)emphasizing the role of the state andthe institutional perspective generally
neglects socialist economies. At the same time, feminist studies on migration rarely
focus on mobility in transitional contexts. Informedby these two bodies of literature, this
paper examines how the post-Mao state in China has fostereda migrant labor regime and
the incorporation of young, single rural women, dubbed ‘‘maiden workers,’’ into urban
work. I argue that the Chinese state has taken on a developmentalist mandate and by doing
so has also transformedgender relations in the peasant householdandin the urban labor
market. By analyzing narratives from a survey of peasant households in Sichuan and Anhui,
I emphasize the central role of state policies andinstitutions, especially the householdregistration
(hukou) system, in channeling peasants to specific sectors andjobs andcreating an
exploitative migrant labor regime. The incorporation of maiden workers into migrant work
andthe relative absence of marriedwomen in the rural–urban migrant labor force, reflect
interactions between institutional controls, gender ideology, and demands of the migrant
labor regime. An approach that integrates gender and institutional perspectives is useful
because it foregrounds the state’s role in constructing differences based on hukou status,
locality, class, and gender.

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