Li Zhang – Strangers in the City

Chapter 1 – The Floating Population as Subjects

  • The floating population is a socially constructed category. Naming and categorizing does not simply describe, reflect or represent social order, but also shape and reshape power relations among different groups
  • The reregulation of migrants accompanied a proliferation of discourse on the floating population in official documents, government censuses, newspaper reports, scholarly research, media, and popular literature
  • Migrants are often referred to not as living individuals with their own desires, dreams, and intentions, but as flocks of raw labor that can be used or expelled at any time. It is through such dehumanizing and objectifying discourse that unequal power relations are also encoded
  • By linking spatial movement to positive qualities, migrants subverts the dominant interpretation of floating, reasoning that mobility is entirely compatible with the new economic trajectory promoted by the state
  • Many migrants see wealth and material consumption as an important way of gaining social status and cosmopolitan-based identity. Research also suggests that migrants tend to emphasize wealth as an indicator of status because many emigrated to improve their economic situations
  • Subject-making is a dialectical process of being-made and self-making. Migrants do not just react passively to state domination; rather they try to make sense of their own experiences and develop new senses of self

Chapter 2 – Commercial Culture, Social Networks, and Migration Passages

  • The movement of many Chinese migrants is often not between two geographic points only, but from one point to many other places
  • The capital-raising strategy was not motivated by the sense of renqing that bound together those in the rural society, but was largely based on shrewd calculations of cost and return, even between family members

Chapter 3 – The Privatization of Space

  • The changing social relationship between landlord families and Wenzhou migrant renters was articulated in their shifting spatial relationships. Since 1990, many moved into the smaller and darker xiangfang and rented the larger rooms out to maximize their monetary gain
  • Dayuan was popular not only because it provided larger and better housing space for individual families, but also because it offered localized protection against crime. Along with this new spatial formation, a type of patron-client network based on three vertically positioned social groups (local officials, housing bosses, and ordinary migrants) also took shape
  • Living together in the compounds reshaped migrants’ interaction with local officials. Rather going to individual migrant households to collect taxes and fees, local officials could work through the housing bosses

Chapter 4 – The Privatization of Power

  • Extended kinship networks are the most important elements in the fabric of the migrant community. Marriage strategies help create social and commercial alliances in the new urban sojourning setting
  • Unlike bureaucratic power that relied largely on impersonal rules and legal codes, the power and prestige of migrant leaders was inseparable from personal traits such as valor and fearlessness
  • The absence of emotional ties in the clientelist networks formed in Zhejiangcun is conditioned by the asymmetric structural positions between officials and migrant entrepreneurs
  • Civic power within the migrant population is more likely to derive from traditional forms of social networks. Visible civic associations cannot serve as a plausible or long-lasting basis for the development of nonstate power

Chapter 5 – Reconfigurations of Gender, Work, and Household

  • Women’s increased participation in production and commerce does not automatically lead to their empowerment
  • Clothing production that is performed in the household is feminized, privatized, and therefore devalued despite its labor-intensive nature and its importance to the business enterprise
  • Women’s failure to meet their husbands’ social expectations, which is a consequence of being excluded from public spaces in the first place, is used to justify keeping them out of the social domain
  • By only looking at how poor rural households can achieve prosperity through migration, we might fail to note that some women are further disempowered and subject to new forms of gender exploitation during the process of “getting rich”

Chapter 6 – Contesting Crime and Order

  • Through repetition, circulation, and expansion, these fantasies, desires, and facts merge to construct the “reality” of the migrant communities
  • Like the case of refugees, Chinese peasant migrants’ spatial mobility and perceived rootlessness are frequently interpreted in urban public discourse as the result of lack of moral and social responsibility
  • The drug culture is indirectly related to the majority of robbery cases
  • By essentializing criminality and attributing it to migrant suzhi, such discourse simply designates a scapegoat and thus fails to locate the structural origin of urban crime

Chapter 7 – The Demolition of Zhejiangcun

  • Analyzing the underlying political motivations of the demolition campaign reveals that the concerns of upper-level governments were quite different from that of lower-level government officials
  • Many migrants believed that the demolition campaign was used by the city government to regain its waning legitimacy. Cleaning out had the symbolic significance of destroying the influence of the old regime
  • Socioeconomic alliances among local government, migrants, and locals complicate the nearly divided conceptual model of state versus society. What was displayed during the campaign was multiple repositionings of diversely located state agencies and social elements

Chapter 8 – Displacement and Revitalization

  • Contrary to official and media portrayals, which equated migrants with crime and disorder, the locals saw migrants as a source of prosperity
  • Like most other political campaigns in China, the cleansing of Wenzhou migrant community came quickly, did a lot of damage, and disappeared just as fast as it had come
  • The ultimate intention of the campaign to clean up Zhejiangcun was not to erase the community altogether, but to weaken its formation of nonstate power and turn into a regulated regime of private capital


  • Without their previously established economic power, enduring social solidarity, and sustained connections with the residents and state agents, such a quick return and revitalization would not have been possible
  • Economic privatization and the growth of free-market forces will not necessarily lead to the decline of state power and an increase in horizontal social ties and trust

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