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Reproduction-Driven Labor Migration from China

Abstract

Why do Chinese workers pay up to $8000 agent fees to leave the rising global economic centre, for dead-end jobs overseas? Labour out-migration from China has become driven by needs in social reproduction. Instead of being compelled by unemployment or poverty, people migrate to accumulate savings quickly to buy houses, get married, pay for their children’s education, and arrange medical and social care. These activities sustain and enhance life on a daily and generational basis, and constitute “social reproduction.” Reproduction-driven labour migration results from the monetization of reproduction activities in China, and in turn makes migrants more vulnerable.
[34] Georgetown Journal of Asian Aairs
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Reproduction-Driven Labor Migration from China
Biao Xiang
Unskilled labor out-migration from China has changed little since the late 1990s. Every
year, about half a million workers leave for contract jobs overseas.¹ Ninety percent of them
migrate to countries in Africa and Asia to work so-called “3-D” jobs: dirty, dicult, and
dead-end.² Despite the signicant increase in average monthly earnings in China—from
USD 83 in June 2000 to USD 1,071 in December 2019—out-migration did not decrease
in the same time period.³ Even more curiously, migrants were willing to pay up to USD
5,000 in the 2010s for a two- or three-year contract job, which amounts to a migrant
worker’s one-year salary. Compounding the cost, migrants often have to pay a USD
3,000 “security bond” that is reclaimable after returning to China upon completion of
their contracts, provided that they did not violate their contract terms.
Why do workers pay so much to leave China, a rising global economic center, for dead-
end jobs overseas? Labor out-migration from China, I suggest, has become “reproduc-
tion-driven.” Instead of being compelled by unemployment or poverty, people migrate
to accumulate savings quickly to buy houses, get married, pay for their childrens educa-
tion, and arrange medical and social care. ese activities sustain and enhance life on
a daily and generational basis, and constitute part of what Marx and Engels termed
“social reproduction.” ese tasks are time-sensitive. While jobs in China can yield
some savings, overseas work speeds up the process because working hours are longer,
payment is more predictable, and daily personal consumption is minimized. It is of
course nothing new that labor migrants remit earnings home to pay for education and
medical costs, but what makes reproduction-driven migration distinct is that duties of
1
e number for 2020 dropped to 0.3 million, most likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. See
“Statistical Communiqué of the Peoples Republic of China on the 2020 National Economic and
Social Development,” National Bureau of Statistics, February 28, 2021, http://www.stats.gov.cn/ztjc/
zthd/lhfw/2021/lh_hgjj/202103/t20210301_1814216.html.
2 Between 1995 and 2019, on average 65 percent of Chinese workers overseas worked in construc-
tion and manufacturing, and 15 percent in agriculture, forestry, and shing. See China International
Contractors Association, Annual Report on China’s International Labor Collaboration, 2004-2019.
3
National Bureau of Statistics, “China Monthly Earnings,” 2021, cited in CEIC, accessed March 7,
2021, https://www.ceicdata.com/en/indicator/china/monthly-earnings.
4 Friedrich Engels, Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, Marxists Internet Archive,
accessed April 28, 2021, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/pdf/origin_fam-
ily.pdf.
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social reproduction have become projects that one is expected to complete by a certain
age, to a certain standard, and with signicant nancial inputs. In the past, additional
income earned from migration would be spent on expanding the village house in one’s
hometown. Now, migration income earned overseas has become the primary vehicle
to maximize savings in order to buy urban property, which has become a necessary
condition to secure a marriage in the countryside.
e emergence of reproduction-driven labor migration results from broad socioeconomic
changes in China––critically, the monetization of reproduction activities. People’s repro-
duction needs, ranging from housing to medical care and education, before the 1990s,
had been supplied through direct state and/or community welfare provisions that were
attached to one’s employment or residence, without involving monetary transactions.
But these provisions were withdrawn in the 1990s, and reproduction needs have become
consumption items requiring the expenditure of large sums of money. Once reproduction
became a matter of investment and consumption, costs kept rising, creating tremendous
pressure, especially on the cash-poor population. ese conditions have given rise to
three characteristics that distinguish reproduction-driven migration from classical labor
migration. First, reproduction-driven migrants are more individualized. Second, they
are more willing to “invest” in migration. ird, they migrate in response to the pressure
imposed by reproduction needs rather than the availability of job opportunities, which
means once the need to reproduce arises, reproduction migrants are eager to go overseas
as quickly as possible, independent of traditional considerations of job availability.
In what follows, I rst describe how migrants experience social expectations regarding
reproduction as a temporal pressure, which makes overseas contract jobs a feasible
choice for some. is is followed by a description of the distinct features of reproduc-
tion-driven labor migration. I then trace the rise of this type of migration to social and
policy changes in China since the late 1990s, particularly how housing, care, education,
and marriage arrangements are monetized. Finally, I propose policy recommendations
to alleviate the pressure of reproduction-driven migration. My analysis is based on eld
research conducted in Liaoning and Jilin provinces in northeast China, in both urban
and rural sites, between June 2004 and November 2017.
Migration for Speedy Savings
Xiao Gang, a pedicab driver in a town in northeast China, told me that he was deter-
mined to go to South Korea within a year. “I will never save enough qu xifu qian (liter-
ally ‘the money for getting a bride’) here,” he explained, “At home we are careless with
spending. We spend according to our mood. We go out to have meals with friends.
One meal costs RMB 200 nowadays.” Overseas jobs do not pay higher salaries but
can yield higher savings more quickly. In a foreign country, migrant workers have little
time for socialization and consumption as they often live in a physically “encapsulated”
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life under tight control. Furthermore, overseas jobs generate more savings because of
much longer working hours.
“In Japan [the employer] won’t allow you to sit idle. You always work. Working means
you are earning!” said Hai Tao, an energetic man in his mid-thirties, and the manager
of a recruitment company associated with a county labor bureau in Jilin. Hai Tao told
me how he persuaded a construction worker to go to Japan:
I told him that he can make RMB 6000 a month in Japan. He said that he was
already earning that amount in China. at is true. A top-level worker can make
as much as RMB 300 a day here. en I asked him, how many months can you
work at home a year? Barely six months! [because of the long winter in northeast
China and the precarious subcontracting system]. I said to him: You have to ask
yourself how much cash you have in your hands at the end of each month, and
how much you have in your bank account when you should be married. After
talking about this and that, [the point is] he has no savings!
When I started my eld research in 2004, many migrants and would-be migrants
planned to invest their future overseas earnings in small businesses, such as opening a
shop, buying a car to rent out as a taxi, or purchasing equipment to organize a home
refurbishment team. By 2010, however, far fewer were contemplating business plans.
ey were more concerned with matters such as nding a spouse, paying o debts, and
buying apartments for themselves or for their children, even though some of them were
still in primary school.
Reproduction needs are time-sensitive. One cannot delay a child’s education or medical
care. Furthermore, property prices, marriage costs, and medical expenses are ever-rising.
e life-cycle time (e.g., the desirable marriage age) and the market time (e.g., price
ination) are related. A man above thirty years old in rural China has to pay a much
higher bride price than a man in his twenties. Similar age-related cost hikes happen
when paying for education, too. People emphasized to me that if they failed to send
their children to good primary schools now, they would have to spend much more later
for the kids to catch up with others in life opportunities. Time is money. Migrants pay
the USD 8,000 migration cost not only for a job, but for the opportunity to start saving
quickly. Recruitment agents who fail to place migrants within a few months lose clients.
Migration used to be a means to earn additional income to improve reproduction condi-
tions. Now, the cost and necessity of reproduction directly drive migration. is change is
illustrated in the relation between migration and the real estate market in Qing county,
Liaoning province. When I arrived for the rst time in 2004, there was consensus
5
In Japan for instance, most migrant workers live in dormitories attached to factories, and some are
not allowed to go shopping more than once a week. See Biao Xiang, “Transnational Encapsulation:
Compulsory Return as a Labor Migration Control in East Asia,” in Return: Nationalizing Transna-
tional Mobility in Asia, ed. Biao Xiang, Brenda Yeoh, and Mika Toyota (Durham: Duke University
Press, 2013), 83-99.
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that migrants’ remittances had driven up the housing prices. Properties in the Qing
county seat were more expensive than in neighboring counties because the county had
a large number of migrants. By the 2010s, the dynamic reversed. Residents no longer
complained that migrants drove up housing prices. Instead, people talked about why
some of them had to go overseas to work and quickly save money in order to buy a at
in the county seat before it became unaordable. As purchasing urban property becomes
the norm, migration has become an extraordinary means to adhere to social conceptions
of “acceptable” living conditions.
New Migration Patterns
Compared to labor migration caused by poverty, reproduction-driven labor migrants
come from more varied socioeconomic backgrounds. While classic labor migration
often creates a mechanism of “cumulative causation” that turns migration into collective
community action,reproduction-driven migration is individualized. While the general
categories of reproduction duties are common across households—getting married, giving
birth, purchasing a house, paying for their children’s education, and taking care of the
ill and the elderly—everyone has dierent needs in terms of what the duties entail and
when they arise. Who eventually decides to migrate, when, and where to, is shaped by
individual circumstances.
Reproduction-driven migrants rarely identify themselves as laborers. ey aim to earn
enough money within a short period of time, which enables them to live a totally
dierent lifestyle. ey are less likely than traditional labor migrants to join unions or
initiate collective bargaining with their employers. is does not mean that there are
fewer conicts in the workplace, however. Recruitment agents complained to me that
the increasing diversity of migrant backgrounds—for instance, failed businesspeople
who turn themselves into international labor migrants—made it harder to control them
overseas. In fact, according to the agents, tensions in the workplace have increased in the
major destination countries—Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Macau. Still, conicts
often burst out as individualized and sporadic clashes, rather than organized contestation.
e nal dierence between previous migration patterns and reproduction-driven migra-
tion is that social pressure and rising costs drive some of these new kinds of migrants
to remain away from home for an extended period of time. In classical circular labor
migration, migrants who seek to earn supplemental income for reproduction needs
go home once their contract expires or the agricultural busy season starts, regardless
of how much money they make. Some reproduction-driven migrants have diculty
returning, however, because they feel socially displaced when failing to meet repro-
duction expectations. ere has been a noticeable increase of repeated migration from
northeast China over the last fteen years. People who have just completed one contract
now pay to migrate again, something I had never encountered before 2010. ere are
also migrants who are perpetually “suspended” between China and their destination
6
Douglas S. Massey, “Social Structure, Household Strategies, and the Cumulative Causation of
Migration,” Population Index 56, no. 1 (1990): 3-26.
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countries because they can never save enough to meet the ever-rising cost of living in
China. Migrants keep moving to satisfy family reproduction needs, as well as to avoid
the humiliation resulting from the failure to fulll the reproduction duties expected of
them. ese new migration patterns are not a function of changes in the demand for
labor at the destination, or of uctuations in employment opportunities at home. ey
are instead caused by signicant changes in social reproduction, namely how people
maintain their individual and family life. ese changes are institutionally induced,
which I shall disentangle below.
e Four Mountains: Marriage, House, Education, Medical Care
When explaining why they choose to work overseas, migrants often refer to “three heavy
mountains” (sanzuo dashan). ese “mountains” are housing, education, and medical care.
For male labor migrants, marriage is an additional fourth mountain that is no lighter
than the others. Around 70 percent of labor migrants are men according to statistics
from Liaoning province in the late 2000s. e stigma attached to unmarried men in
China (guanggun, the bare sticks”) is well known. is stigma is ingrained in migrant
workers themselves, especially those in Japan, who see the low Japanese marriage rate as a
sign of moral perversion, and sometimes attribute to this the inhumane experiences that
they suered as migrant workers. e social expectation for universal marriage creates
widespread anxiety when coupled with the acute awareness of China’s sex imbalance:
115 males to every 100 females aged 20 to 24 years old (2019).¹
To increase their competitiveness in the marriage market, male migrants have to oer
more. To secure a marriage in a county town in the late 2010s, the groom must provide
housing and pay a bride price of RMB 100,000. Other research conducted in a city in
northeastern China nds that the bride price increased from an average of RMB 600
in 1977 to the standard of RMB 288,888 in 2016 (the number 8 is supposed to bring
7
Jamie Coates describes that Chinese migrants in Japan feel perpetually unsettled, even though
they have succeeded in their migration projects, partly because the expectations on their contribu-
tions to family life continue rising. See Jamie Coates, “e Cruel Optimism of Mobility: Aspiration,
Belonging, and the ‘Good Life’ among Transnational Chinese Migrants in Tokyo,” Positions 3, no. 27
(2019): 469–497.
Miriam Driessen points out that those who migrate to fulll their reproduction duties paradoxically
miss critical time to perform their family roles. is puts them in a “double bind,” and makes it hard
to stop migrating. See Miriam Driessen, “Chinese Workers in Ethiopia Caught Between Remaining
and Returning,” Pacic Aairs (2021), forthcoming.
8 e “ree Heavy Mountains” originally referred to foreign imperialism, feudalism, and bureau-
cratic capitalism, which were toppled once-for-all by the socialist revolution. See Mao Zedong,
“Speech at a Conference of Cadres in the Shansii-Suiyuan Liberated Area,” Marxists Internet Ar-
chive, accessed March 7, 2021,
https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-4/mswv4_35.htm.
9 No national data about the migrants’ gender composition is available. See “Labor Outmigration
Statistics, Liaoning,” 2006, 2007 and 2008, Liaoning Provincial Labor Bureau.
10 “National Data, Sex Ratio,” Chinese National Bureau of Statistics, accessed April 14, 2021, https://
data.stats.gov.cn/search.htm?s=%E6%80%A7%E5%88%AB%E6%AF%94.
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Xiang | Reproduction-Driven Labor Migration from China
good luck), though what counts as a bride price varies from region to region.¹¹ Addi-
tional research in a northeastern village documented bride prices rising from RMB 200
in the 1950s to RMB 28,500 in the 1990s.¹² Grooms are also expected to contribute
funds for a car, furniture, jewelry, and wedding banquet––costs that total about RMB
300,000 according to my eld data.
“No girl will marry you unless you have a at in [the] county seat nowadays,” the father
of a would-be migrant in a village told me, “Girls with good ‘conditions’ (tiaojian, or
looks, age, and socioeconomic background) will also ask about the exact location, how
big [the at] is, and even the condition of the amenities in the condo.” China reformed
its welfare-oriented urban housing system in 1998, partly to develop its real estate
market to stabilize the economy after the 1997 Asian nancial crisis. Between 1999
and 2018, the average price per square meter of newly built ats in China jumped from
RMB 1,758 to RMB 8,539. ¹³ In Liaoning, the price doubled in ten years: from less
than RMB 3,000 in 2007 to RMB 7,000 in 2018.¹
Unmarried young men migrate to save enough money to aord properties in the city.
Married men—and women—migrate to pay mortgages. e balance of personal home
loans increased by a factor of 16.1 between 2004 and 2018. ¹ e ratio of mortgage to
household disposable income rose from 16.2 percent to 47.6 percent during the same
period.¹ Migrants go overseas to “work for banks”; they have to work hard and save
because they are “slaves to their house [mortgage]” (fangnu).¹
Education
Lin Wei, a thirty-three-year-old woman working in a garment factory in Japan, wanted
to send her seven-year-old daughter to a primary school in the county seat––this was
why she had decided to become a migrant worker. But her husband insisted that the
village school was good enough. is was unacceptable for Lin Wei: “Only buxingde
(incapable or problematic) families send children to the village school now. Uncar
-
ing parents, or [those] who really have no money. Now my husband is one of them!”
11 Ziyi Yin, “From Intergenerational Deprivation to Capital Display: Observation and Reconstruc-
tion of the Changes in Urban Bride Price” (M.A. thesis, Northeast China Normal University, 2017).
12
Yunxiang Yan, Private Life under Socialism: Love, Intimacy, and Family Change in a Chinese
Village, 1949–1999 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004).
13
National Bureau of Statistics, “China CN: Commodity Bldg Selling Price: YTD Average: Resi-
dential,” CEIC, accessed March 7, 2021, https://www.ceicdata.com/en/china/nbs-property-price/
cn-commodity-bldg-selling-price-ytd-average-residential.
14 National Bureau of Statistics, “China’s Property Price: YTD Avg: Existing House: Liaoning,” CEIC,
accessed March 7, 2021, https://www.ceicdata.com/en/china/nbs-property-price-monthly/proper-
ty-price-ytd-avg-existing-house-liaoning.
15
Hengda Research Institute, “China Fertility Report 2020,” e Paper, accessed March 7, 2021,
https://www.thepaper.cn/newsDetail_forward_9539003.
16
Hengda Research Institute, “China Fertility Report 2020.
17 Miriam Driessen, “Migrating for the Bank: Housing and Chinese Labor Migration to Ethiopia,
e China Quarterly 221 (2015): 143-160.
[40] Georgetown Journal of Asian Aairs
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Under the stress of constant quarrels with her husband on WeChat, she snapped and
got involved in a ght with her employer. She ran away from the factory and came to
a shelter set up by a labor non-governmental organization, where we met. Lin Wei
told me her plan: once she settled her back pay with her former employer, she would
go home, rent an apartment in the county seat, and bring her daughter there. Indeed,
rural-to-urban relocation for the promise of a better education constitutes much of the
reproduction-driven migration inside China.
While urban schools supposedly oer a better education than rural schools, they are
much more expensive. It is now common practice for preschool children in rural China
to attend kindergartens in nearby towns. e vast majority of kindergartens in the
countryside are privately owned and require monthly tuition.¹ From 2012 to 2021,
private kindergarten tuition increased from less than RMB 650 to over RMB 1000.¹
Some private kindergartens, including those in Jilin province, already charged nearly
RMB 1000 per pupil every month in 2017. Kindergarten is of course only a starting
point. According to a survey by Sina Education in 2017, average households spent 26
percent of their annual income on education during a child’s preschool years, 21 percent
of their yearly income from kindergarten to high school, and 29 percent of their income
for each year of college.²
Healthcare
ose who are most willing to pay high fees to go overseas quickly often have family
members in need of major medical treatment. Lu Gang, a thirty-two-year-old man
who looked much older, said that he would go overseas at any cost because his father
had late-stage cancer. By the time we met, the treatment had lasted for more than a
year and had exhausted all of his family’s savings. Lu was willing to pay RMB 70,000
to go to Australia, where he was told wages were higher than the usual destinations.
He wanted to work as a truck driver despite his very minimal English: “I drove trucks
before. Driving trucks you can pick up odd jobs. I can earn more.”
e burden of medical care is vividly captured by a riddle that circulated widely on
Chinese social media in the late 2010s: “Looking from a distance it is like heaven, look-
ing up close it is like a bank [making money], inside it is like a jail [capturing visitors].
What is it?—A hospital!” China’s per capita healthcare expenditure increased from RMB
18
e proportion of public kindergarten pupils nationwide dropped from 95 percent to 44 percent
from 1997 to 2019. See Hengda Research Institute, “China Fertility Report 2020,” accessed March 7,
2021, https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/CVejh_jt23RcMZGsiJYfNg. See also Ministry of Education, “2019
National Educational Development Statistical Bulletin,” accessed March 7, 2021, http://www.moe.
gov.cn/jyb_sjzl/sjzl_fztjgb/202005/t20200520_456751.html.
19 CEIC, “China’s CN: Service Charges: 36 City Avg: Nursery Fee: Private Kindergarten,” accessed
March 7, 2021, https://www.ceicdata.com/en/china/price-monitoring-center-ndrc-36-city-monthly-
avg-service-charges/cn-service-charges-36-city-avg-nursey-fee-private-kindergarten.
20
Sina Education, “2017 White Paper on Chinese Family Consumption on Education
[2017中国家庭教育消费白皮书], accessed March 7, 2021, 3, https://max.book118.com/
html/2018/1106/8105131011001132.shtm.
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Xiang | Reproduction-Driven Labor Migration from China
173.2 in 2000 to RMB 1,902.3 in 2019.²¹ ere are two unusual features behind this
rise. First, medical expenses increased steadily by more than 20 percent per year in the
2000s, unrelated to general ination.²² Second, medical costs rose at the same time as
the government increased investments in public health. According to the World Health
Organization, the share of out-of-pocket expenditure to total health expenditure by
individual patients decreased from 60 percent to 36 percent between 2000 and 2018.²³
At the same time, the absolute amounts increased from USD 77 to more than USD
334 in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms.² In fact, government investments made
medical care more costly. A classic case of regulatory capture, hospitals, pharmaceutical
companies, and drug distributors turned public investments into a source of prot. ey
purchased expensive equipment and medicine, and then over-prescribed them to patients.
Li Chen, a returnee from Japan, took care of her mother with lung cancer in 2017. “e
doctors said that [my mother] should do this-and-that test. My mother always said,
‘Forget it.’ But how can we say no to the doctor?” e medicine cost RMB 14,000, and
tests cost another RMB 6,000 every month. ese gures were kept secret from Li’s
mother as this expense would be as devastating as the cancer itself. After Li had several
major altercations with her employer in Japan and her recruitment agent in China,
she decided to never work overseas again. is put the family in an especially dicult
situation. ey agonized over how to repay their ever-growing debt. After our meetings
ended, I occasionally received messages from Li that she was selling household goods
as part of an e-commerce enterprise. But she seemed reluctant to tell me how she was
doing and where she was.
e four heavy mountains—marriage, housing, education, and healthcare—are basic
human needs. However, they have become mountain-like burdens because of their
monetization. e free provision of goods and services that are essential for sustaining
life is no longer available. Goods and services have become commodities whose prices
are constantly rising. ose without enough money to purchase such commodities, for
instance housing or education in the city, are socially displaced. is places tremendous
pressure on the vast majority of the population, but especially on low-income families.
Peasants with very little liquid cash have suered even more. As one labor recruiting
agent put it,peasants don’t see cash coming in, but they see cash going out all the time.”
Working overseas is a way to earn cash in a concentrated manner. e monetization of
reproduction spurred a shift in migration patterns out of China. Under social pressure
to fulll monetized reproduction duties on time, migrants pay high fees for low-end
21 National Bureau of Statistics, “China’s Consumption Expenditure per Capita,” CEIC, accessed
March 7, 2021, https://www.ceicdata.com/en/china/expenditure-per-capita/consumption-expendi-
ture-per-capita-health-care-and-medical-services.
22
Xueguo Wen, Blue Book of Medical Reform: Report on China’s Medical and Health System Re-
form (2014-2015) (Beijing: Social Science Literature Press, 2015).
23 “Out-of-Pocket Expenditure (percent of current health expenditure) – China,” World Health
Organization Global Health Expenditure Database, accessed March 7, 2021, https://data.worldbank.
org/indicator/SH.XPD.OOPC.CH.ZS?locations=CN.
24 “Out-of-Pocket Expenditure (percent of current health expenditure) – China,” World Health
Organization Global Health Expenditure Database.
[42] Georgetown Journal of Asian Aairs
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jobs overseas in order to accumulate savings as quickly as possible.
Conclusions and Policy Implications
is article began with a puzzle, that over the past two decades, low-skilled labor out-mi-
gration from China continues even as wages in China increased and earnings from
overseas remained stagnant. I argue that the answer to this puzzle lies in the fact that
labor out-migration from China after 2000 is increasingly driven by migrants’ needs
to satisfy the duties of social reproduction: forming families, purchasing property, and
providing education and healthcare. ese reproduction activities—sustaining individual
and family life—require substantial nancial resources. Work overseas does not neces-
sarily pay better than work in China, but it provides more opportunity to quickly and
predictably accumulate savings to meet time-sensitive needs.
e root cause of reproduction-driven migration is the monetization of critical precondi-
tions of social reproduction, such as marriage, housing, and education. e monetization
of reproduction means much more than simply the rising cost of consumption goods.
Rather, it indicates a fundamental shift in how critical resources are distributed and how
people’s lives are organized. Monetization turns the basic needs of life into commodities
that one must pay for. Life in turn becomes a competition for material goods and social
status: one feels compelled to purchase high-end housing, education, and medical care
for the sake of maintaining one’s social standing, even though the expensive items are
beyond one’s means and genuine need. Monetization creates a self-perpetuating cycle:
the cost of reproduction rises, service providers turn public subsidies and investments
into a source of prot, and consumers are forced to pay for high-cost services. is
ironically results in welfare provision contributing to the rising cost of care which, in
turn, makes the costs of reproduction rise further. Ultimately, this leads people to pay
intermediaries high fees to secure positions as migrant workers so they can save money
to pay for expenses. Migration driven by reproduction-related pressures has contributed
little to migrants’ skills acquisition or capital formation. Such migration helps to improve
migrants’ material living conditions, yet its costs are high in terms of nancial expenses,
mental pressure, and health implications.
e rise of reproduction-driven out-migration from China shows clearly that labor
migration is not simply a function of job market supply and demand, or of income dispar-
ities. We must take into consideration family planning and reproduction-related nancial
considerations of migrants and the prevalent social norms of what constitutes a “good
life.” As I have demonstrated, these are not purely cultural matters, but are profoundly
shaped by institutional arrangements underlying the commodication of reproduction.
Conventional development-oriented strategies, such as generating employment oppor-
tunities and increasing income levels, will not reduce reproduction-driven migration.
Nor will increasing welfare investments be sucient, as welfare provisions will increase
purchasing power and in turn, increase costs. e monetization of reproduction itself
must be reversed. To accomplish this, rst, the Chinese government must regulate the
property market more tightly, for instance by capping transaction prices and freezing
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rents, thereby reining in skyrocketing housing prices. Second, the government should
increase direct subsidies to public schools—especially those in the countryside—to close
the gap in performance between public and private schools. And third, the government
should reform the drug distribution system to lessen out-of-pocket medical expenses
and prevent hospitals from making prots through over-prescription. ese three steps
can help dampen and reverse the monetization of social goods and provide relief for
workers relying on out-migration to stay competitive in the reproduction race.
Biao Xiang 项飙 is a Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Oxford, and Director
of the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Germany. Xiang’s research addresses
various types of migration in China, India, and other parts of Asia. Xiang is the winner of the
2008 Anthony Leeds Prize for his book Global Bodyshopping and the 2012 William L. Holland
Prize for his article “Predatory Princes.” His 2000 Chinese book 跨越边界的社区 (published
in English as Transcending Boundaries, 2005) was reprinted in 2018 as a contemporary classic,
and 自己作为方法 (Self as Method, co-authored with Wu Qi) was named the Most Impactful
Book of 2020. His work has been translated into Japanese, French, Korean, Spanish, German,
and Italian.
... As we said earlier, the first definition is more challenging, because all labour migration engages with the everyday maintenance of the household and individual well-being. I do not see this as a unique type even if -as you mentioned in another paper (Xiang, 2021) -Chinese migrants are driven by reproduction as a temporal pressure: the need to get married, the need to buy a house by a certain age. I see this more like a speeding up process for the reproduction aspirations of migrant workers. ...
Article
By shedding light on the concept of the fangnu (mortgage slave), this paper explains why young men from China migrate to Ethiopia. Young, educated, employed and ambitious, the fangnu is a modern type of slave who is said to have sold his freedom to the bank for the purpose of buying a house. For young men coming from a rural background, temporary migration offers a chance to earn the money so badly needed for a down payment or repayments on mortgage loans for their newly bought residential property. I argue that the fangnu is the child of a Chinese society characterized by high social mobility as well as a growing demographic imbalance owing to the one-child policy. In this context, a house - or in urban China, commonly an apartment in a high-rise building - is increasingly seen as a marker of status, especially in the marriage market. Although the Chinese do not demand a bride price, the hunfang (marriage house) has become the norm in urban Chinese society. Unable to rely on the financial support of their kin, young Chinese men from the countryside migrate to earn the starting capital needed to cope with the socio-economic pressures of settling in the city.
Article
Yunxiang Yan is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of The Flow of Gifts: Reciprocity and Social Networks in a Chinese Village (Stanford, 1996). ---------- For seven years in the 1970s, the author lived in a village in northeast China as an ordinary farmer. In 1989, he returned to the village as an anthropologist to begin the unparalleled span of eleven years’ fieldwork that has resulted in this book—a comprehensive, vivid, and nuanced account of family change and the transformation of private life in rural China from 1949 to 1999. The author’s focus on the personal and the emotional sets this book apart from most studies of the Chinese family. Yan explores private lives to examine areas of family life that have been largely overlooked, such as emotion, desire, intimacy, privacy, conjugality, and individuality. He concludes that the past five decades have witnessed a dual transformation of private life: the rise of the private family, within which the private lives of individual women and men are thriving. ---------- “The best ethnography of rural China in the 1990s, this important book is about a rarely explored but central dimension of Chinese family life. Yan also places his study of private life directly in the center of classic debates about the character and importance of corporate kinship. It takes years of sharing villagers’ lives to see beneath the surface. Yan lived it, and he brings deep understanding to both the narrative and the analysis.�—Deborah Davis, Yale University “This may well prove to be the finest rural ethnography of a Chinese village ever written. By focusing on the emotional domain, Yan invites his readers to engage ethnographically in a new domain of scholarly exploration and analysis. In so doing, he has made the Chinese more human. It is a wonderful study.�—William Jankowiak, University of Nevada, Las Vegas “This ethnographic study should be in every academic library.�—Library Journal “In probably the best micro-examination of Chinese society in transition, Yan goes beyond the three conventional topologies of treating the Chinese family as a cultural, economic, and political unit. His focus on the personal and emotional aspects of Chinese families separates this book from the conventional emphasis on structure and collectivism.�—H.T. Wong, Eastern Washington University “Beautifully crafted, this study provides a sobering look at changes in rural Chinese family life, while shedding rare light on the inner moral and emotional world of the Chinese villager.�—Population and Development Review “a throught provoking book...�—American Historical Review
From Intergenerational Deprivation to Capital Display: Observation and Reconstruction of the Changes in Urban Bride Price
  • Ziyi Yin
Ziyi Yin, "From Intergenerational Deprivation to Capital Display: Observation and Reconstruction of the Changes in Urban Bride Price" (M.A. thesis, Northeast China Normal University, 2017).
China's Property Price: YTD Avg: Existing House: Liaoning
National Bureau of Statistics, "China's Property Price: YTD Avg: Existing House: Liaoning, " CEIC, accessed March 7, 2021, https://www.ceicdata.com/en/china/nbs-property-price-monthly/property-price-ytd-avg-existing-house-liaoning.
See also Ministry of Education
The proportion of public kindergarten pupils nationwide dropped from 95 percent to 44 percent from 1997 to 2019. See Hengda Research Institute, "China Fertility Report 2020, " accessed March 7, 2021, https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/CVejh_jt23RcMZGsiJYfNg. See also Ministry of Education, "2019 National Educational Development Statistical Bulletin, " accessed March 7, 2021, http://www.moe. gov.cn/jyb_sjzl/sjzl_fztjgb/202005/t20200520_456751.html.
China's Consumption Expenditure per Capita
National Bureau of Statistics, "China's Consumption Expenditure per Capita, " CEIC, accessed March 7, 2021, https://www.ceicdata.com/en/china/expenditure-per-capita/consumption-expenditure-per-capita-health-care-and-medical-services.
Blue Book of Medical Reform: Report on China's Medical and Health System Reform
  • Xueguo Wen
Xueguo Wen, Blue Book of Medical Reform: Report on China's Medical and Health System Reform (2014-2015) (Beijing: Social Science Literature Press, 2015).