The figure of the worker-citizen
in China’s citizenship challenge
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This chapter looks at the production of the figure of the worker-citizen as a response to the discrimination against migrants in the public discourse, and the attempts to rectify them as rightful citizens. It traces the process of how this identity of worker-citizen is constructed through acts of ‘voicing’ (of migrants’ grievances), ‘challenging marginalisation’ and ‘constructing a new identity’ for migrant workers. The NGOs which engage in this form of activism aim, though not always successfully, to liberate migrant workers from the hierarchical spatio-temporal rural/urban, backward/modern, and economically useless/useful binaries entrenched in structural citizenship. Consciously cast in the language of class and the value of labour, their figure of worker-citizen rejects both the suzhi discourse and the hukou system’s denigration of migrant workers as second-class citizens, and aims to reshape migrants’ relationship to both the rural and the urban.

China’s citizenship challenge

Labour NGOs and the struggle for migrant workers’ rights

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