Migrant workers’ citizenship, the hukou system and local state policies
A genealogical enquiry
in China’s citizenship challenge
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In a largely chronological manner, this chapter presents a history of the mutual co-constitution of the citizenship regime and discourse. It argues that the current formulation of citizenship in China is founded not only on the formal legislative aspect of the hukou system, but also on the underlying citizenship discourse, which stems from the processes of modernisation, urbanisation and nationalism, underlined by the new economic divisions created by market reforms. The chapter traces genealogies of citizenship in China in order to reveal how it has been constructed through the mechanism of the spatio-temporal ‘othering’ of the rural/migrant worker population. It then presents the attempts by central and local governments to reform the hukou system, arguing that despite much debate about reform of the system since 2003, and particularly since 2014, not enough has been done to truly transform the citizenship status of migrant workers in China. It also discusses the state-prescribed citizenship practices, which are enforced both through the law and through public campaigns and school education, and reflects on what type of citizen they promote. The final section of the chapter sets out how these various historical and contemporary discourses have been entangled in local China, in the form of the municipal authorities’ policies and narratives towards migrant workers in Shenzhen, Beijing and Hangzhou, the main fieldwork sites.

China’s citizenship challenge

Labour NGOs and the struggle for migrant workers’ rights

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