Working Paper 96

Settling into Uncertainty: migrants in suburban Beijing

Friederike Fleischer

Department ‘Resilience and Transformation in Eurasia’

Year of publication

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Working Paper 95

Reform period migration in China has commonly been described as a rural to urban movement of short-term character, facilitated and circumscribed by kinship or native place networks. In this paper I discuss a new type of migrants who understand themselves as settled long-term, if not permanently in urban centres, who are not necessarily badly educated, sometimes marry locally and build relations of support based on their job and life situations. They put up with a significant amount of uncertainty regarding their living, working and social situations that comes with their status as “second-class citizens”. Nonetheless, I argue that the dynamic fringe of large urban centres today offers a space where migrants can carve out a niche to work and live. In fact, migrants have become so vital to the larger urban transformation and so deeply rooted in the modernisation process of Chinese cities that they might actually not be able to “return” to their places of origin. The paper attempts to broaden the analysis of Chinese migration by drawing attention to its spatial dimension. In particular, I want to highlight the (hitherto neglected) importance of “locality” for migrants’ urban experiences. PDF (295 KB)

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