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New masters, new servants : Migration, Development, and Women Workers in China : [book review] Nielsen, Ingrid Jun 30, 2010

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Pacific Affairs: Volume 83, No. 2 – June 2010  26 and beyond, to take advantage of cheap labour, lax regulations on labour and the environment, tax incentives and market access. This replicates what America and Japan did for the little dragon economies decades earlier, minus the Cold War atmosphere. Another area receiving too little attention is the trade-off between development and the environment. Although he mentions China’s severe environmental degradation, this is a noticeable consequence of industrialization throughout the region which the other states, often pressed by civil society, are now addressing. Given my own experience teaching The Sociology of Development and Globalization, I would also have advised more attention to the Cold War and its implications for East Asia, in particular the phenomena of divided nations and a garrison mentality in Korea and Taiwan. I find my students (as well as East Asian youth!) have little or no understanding of this period, or even what the Soviet Union was, and how the competition between the “free” and “communist” worlds drove so much of the global political economy for decades. The language varies from rather complex sentences conveying sophisticated ideas and intellectual debates to high school level near- fragments. And an index would have helped. University of California, Berkeley, USA ThomAs b. Gold NEW MASTERS, NEW SERVANTS: Migration, Development, and Women Workers in China. By Yan Hairong. Durham (NC) and London: Duke University Press, 2008. x, 314 pp (Illus., B&W photos.) US$23.95, paper. ISBN: 978-0-8223-4304-2. China has an estimated 200 million rural–urban migrants, who have been the engine that has propelled China’s extraordinary rate of economic growth. Despite their contributions to China’s economic development, rural–urban migrants form part of an emerging urban underclass. They endure sub-standard housing, earn low incomes relative to their local urban counterparts and confront widespread discrimination in many forms. For the most part, for instance, migrant workers in China’s cities face numerous obstacles in accessing education for their children, in participating in social insurance schemes, in accessing reproductive and sexual health services and in obtaining decent housing. It has also been well documented that China’s migrants are frowned upon by many urban locals who blame them for all manner of urban ills, from increasing urban crime to urban unemployment. It is against this backdrop that Yan Hairong’s book New Masters, New Servants explores class dynamics and the struggle for suzhi (quality) among migrant women from Anhui.  27 Electronic Book Review: China and Inner Asia In chapter 1 and the introduction to chapter 2, Yan explains how China’s post-reform urban development policies have increased the divide between the urban and rural societies. According to Yan, the increasing chasm between China’s urban “haves” and rural “have-nots” is interpreted in terms of low suzhi (quality). For female migrant labourers in domestic service, the result is the subjugation of female rural servants by urban masters. This introduction sets the scene for Yan to analyze how female migrant workers in domestic service both conceptualize the discourse of development as well as struggle to achieve suzhi. In her Intermezzo I (chapter 3), Yan discusses in depth the idea of suzhi and the manner in which it is used as an instrument to further China’s capitalist endeavours. Migration is seen as the vehicle through which subjectivity is mobilized and through which self-development-in-pursuit- of-capitalist-development is propelled. In Intermezzo II (chapters 4 and 5), Yan explores the idea that the city imposes itself on migrant women, luring them to embrace modernity through growing consumer identity. Migrants adopt a veneer of urban chic that belies their subjugated status but which concomitantly serves to reframe their city stays in ways which serve development. In chapter 6, Yan turns to the subject of place identity; discussing how migration serves to distance women from their traditional roots and roles while simultaneously barriers to permanent migration prevent the development of an urban identity. This conundrum is another key to subjugation and drives home the message that China’s identity requires a paradigm shift, not simply a shift in discourse, to shake off the enduring shackles of Maoism. The ethnographic approach taken by Yan is a particularly powerful one and shows a deep empathy for the servants for whom the study is named. One criticism, if there is one, is that the ethnography is sometimes interpreted within dense and complex theoretical frameworks which might be inaccessible to some readers. Nonetheless, the volume is one of the most compelling I have read on gendered domestic labour and should be essential reading not only for those interested in China’s rural urban migrants but for scholars of migration and development more generally. On the whole, Yan’s new volume is both thought-provoking and entertaining. Clearly, the face of a globalizing China cannot be understood without a focus on the plight of migrant workers. This book is a timely contribution that provides that lens. Monash University, Clayton, Australia inGrid nielsen


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