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Representing Dagongmei (Female Migrant Workers) in Contemporary China

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Neither comrades nor yet full-fledged consumers, Chinese dagongmei (female migrant workers) and their experience(s) are an essential part of the story of China’s globalizing economy. The growing body of scholarly literature on internal migrant workers exposes a chilling underside to China’s passionate embrace of market-oriented reform—which certainly should give pause to those otherwise inclined to hail the rise of global capitalism as a glorious shift toward democracy and greater personal freedom. My particular interest in the subject lies in the intersection of the rural-to-urban labor migration phenomenon, gender, and the realm of contemporary cultural expression. This article examines the diverse array of literary and visual representations of dagongmei, a site of distinctly post-Mao ideological contestation. It begins with a discussion of dagongmei within popular and mainstream media. It then turns to the broad historical and cultural contexts that have spurred the grassroots emergence of worker literature in recent decades in southern China. The article concludes with an analysis of work by two women writers―poet Zheng Xiaoqiong and novelist Wang Lili―that offers highly gendered accounts of the contemporary migrant labor experience.

Affiliations: 1: Department of East Asian Studies, Connecticut College


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