Ethnic Network and Labor Brokerage in the Temporary Employment System in Contemporary China

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 11:15
Location: Hörsaal 10 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Xinrong MA, Institute of Area Study Leiden University, Netherlands
     China has been witnessing the largest labor migration in history. This fact has been attracting broad academic concern, however, ethnic minority labor migrants are generally ignored in the existing studies, which leaves the special dynamics of ethnic minority migration that differ from Han laborers with little concern. This paper focuses on ethnic Yi labor migrants who migrated from Liangshan autonomous region to the Pearl River Delta area of China, and work in the temporary employment system in electronic manufactures.

     It is commonly assumed that social networks, including ethnic and native-place networks, mitigates the effects exploitation of individual workers. Some other research suggests that the original social network may disguise exploitation of labor migrants. The case of ethnic Yi labor migrants shows that ethnic identity neither directly facilitates the collective rights of labors nor the exploitation by capitalist. Instead, a particular ethnic Yi intermediate brokerage system is embedded in the ethnic network, and increases the vulnerability and exploitation of temporary Yi workers.

     Based on seven-months of ethnographic fieldwork in both the hometown of the ethnic Yi migrants and the receiving city, this paper illustrates three aspects of the dynamics and complexity of the formation of the Yi labor brokerage system. Firstly, the market for temporary labor opens up opportunities for Yi labor brokerage. Secondly, Yi brokers manipulate the brokerage system by utilizing the ethnic solidarity and reciprocity in their hometown, which in turn brings Yi workers in a controlled and exploitative condition. Thirdly, Yi workers paradoxically perceive the brokerage system based on their ethnic network as protection, providing them with the possibly of free mobility in the temporary labor market.