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Issue 42 (July 1999)
Becoming Dagongmei (Working Girls): the Politics of Identity and Difference in Reform China
The dramatic changes in the lives of migrant women workers in contemporary China have elicited much less academic study than the issue deserves, despite their substantial part in the socio-economic transformation and the modernity project of the Chinese society in the period of economic reform. This article focuses on these female peasant-workers and on a shift in their identities in light of China's attempt to enter the capitalist world economy.
As women, as peasants and as migrant workers, the dagongmei's ambiguous and overlapping identities illustrate how the party state, the capitalist market and China's patriarchal culture work hand in hand to produce new relations of power and domination.
My central argument is that the creation of new social identities for these workers according to their locality of origin, ethnicity and gender is political, and takes advantage of the rural-urban disparity in China, region-based and gender inequalities. I will probe the process - the regulatory and identifactory practices inside and outside the workplace-which shape these new social identities, and will examine this from both the side of those possessing power and the side those acted upon.
Uradyn E. Bulag
Models and Modalities: The Parable of the Two "Heroic Little Sisters of the Grassland"
This paper explores inter- and intra-ethnic morality in socialist China by examining the changing narratives of the parable "Little Heroic Sisters of the Grassland". The author suggests that the two Mongol little sister models were created by Mongol officials in an effort to resist the mounting class struggle waged by Mao Zedong, but the construction of a Mongol self-representation was complicated by socialist morality. It is argued therefore that resistance should, instead of being romanticized, be seen as a diagnostic of power within the society concerned. As recently revealed, the Chinese proletariat-cum-saviour turned out to be an opportunist, whereas the real person behind the character of the Mongol sheep rustler-cum-class enemy became the real saviour of the two little sisters. Nonetheless, because of the continued value of this parable for some Mongol elite, the rehabilitation of the "sheep-rustler" after the Cultural Revolution has not been easy. Examining the twist and turn of the story and the changing fortunes of the real figures involved, the author argues that the Chinese socialist regime of truth has exerted moral constraint on the maintenance of the ethnic boundary.
Jonathan Unger and Anita Chan
Inheritors of the Boom: Private Enterprise and the Role of Local Government in a Rural South China Township
A rural township (a former commune) in the heart of the Pearl River delta in China's Guangdong province has developed a nationally competitive textile industry. Farmers came out of the fields in the 1980s to establish small private textile weaving firms, and today this rural town and its surrounding villages contain more than 1,600 locally-owned textile factories. This paper, based on extensive interviewing during 1997 with local factory owners and village and township officials, examines how the rise of a large local business class affects local state-Party-society relations.
Sally Sargeson and Jian Zhang
Re-assessing the Role of the Local State: A Case Study of Local Government Interventions in Property Rights Reform in a Hangzhou District
This paper examines the role played by lower-level government officials in the transformation of property rights in collective enterprises in Xihu, a suburban district of Hangzhou, the capital of China's Zhejiang province, in the 1990s. On the basis of a case study of officials' interventions in the transformation of collective enterprises into shareholding cooperative enterprises, the authors question the overwhelmingly positive assessment of the consequences of economic management by local governments that has been given in many studies of "local state corporatism" in China. The authors argue that while the concentration of property and power in the hands of local officials has motivated them to promote local economic growth, it has also reduced the ability of China's central government to guide economic and political reform, discouraged private entrepreneurship in some localities, impeded democratic reforms, and exacerbated divisions within and between social groups.
The Two-Ballot System in Shanxi: Subjecting Village Party Secretaries to a Popular Vote
Elections to villagers' committee have received much attention of late. But Party secretaries, who are not subject to a popular vote, continue to have the final say in most Chinese villages. The accountability of Party secretaries is thus a crucial issue in assessing the prospects for grass-roots democracy. Using interviews and archival sources, this article examines the origins and development of the two-ballot system in Shanxi. Where this reform has been implemented, Party members must win a popular vote of confidence before they can stand for election to the Party branch. Villagers, under this system, cannot select the candidates for a Party branch election, but they can prevent those they distrust from appearing on the final ballot.