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Borders within the border : economic development and mobility in two sub-regions of the Pearl River delta, South China Du, Junrong


This dissertation explores how local labour markets and labour migration are constructed within in the Pearl River delta region in Guangdong province, south China. The Pearl River delta region has become one of the most industrialized and prosperous regions in China since economic reform began in 1979. Industrial growth has occurred in areas that were primarily agricultural, yet the trajectory of growth has been uneven. Uneven development has generated two distinct economic structures and economic activities within the delta region. The core area is highly industrialized, and partially urbanized, while the periphery is less industrialized and by Pearl River delta standards marginally developed. The data for this study were derived primarily from a survey conducted in five formerly rural communities in the Pearl River delta. Over 400 labour migrants were interviewed. Ethnographic observation and secondary documentary analysis complemented the survey data. I argue, firstly, that rural industrialization created large scale labour migration in and around village settlements rather than urban areas. Labour market formation in Chinese rural contexts offers a sharp contrast to current migration studies and labour market formation. Secondly, the hukou system and other policies of residence management have major consequences for labour migration in China. Labour migration occurs in a domestic context and despite some distinctions occurs within a single cultural system. Chinese labour migrants cross administrative boundaries and face cultural adjustment such as language and industrial work. They can be seen as analogous to foreign workers as described in international migration studies. Yet institutional arrangements create unequal access to the benefits of citizenship and distinctive living arrangements. They generate contested identities in the places where migrants seek employment. The social networks of migrants have become facilitating factors in obtaining jobs and initial settlement, yet they may also hinder social integration into highly solidary host communities. This study has implications beyond labour market formation and identity change. Given the large population of labour migrants in China and the patterns of labour migration under specific institutional context and local social characteristics, it casts light on the profound social transformation in China as a whole.

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