Discursive Dyslexia and the Articulation of Class: A Theoretical Perspective on China’s Young Female Migrant Workers (Dagongmei)

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On 19 November 1993, a major fire engulfed a Hong Kong (香港)-invested toy factory in Shenzhen (深圳). The factory was subcontracted to process the products of a certain famous European toy brand. Over eighty workers lost their lives in this fire, whilst over fifty people were left with severe burns, and more than twenty people suffered minor injuries. This tragedy shook the international community. It also caused a great uproar within China, as if it was the first time since the Reform and Opening (改革开放) that China had suffered serious injury at the hands of global capital. Only now, the mass media also seemed to have suddenly become aware of the heavy price being paid by migrant workers for China’s rapid economic development. This major fire etched a permanent scar into Chinese society’s dream of modernity, which is characterized with a deep belief in capital and in the modern market. The process of seeking modernity has to it a restlessness fuelled by both hope and longing, whilst at the same time, it is rife with the evils of development. During this process, there at the bottom of the heap, the sacrifice of the working class is viewed as necessary for development.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMapping China : Peasants, Migrant Workers and Informal Labor
EditorsChongqing Wu
ISBN (Electronic)9789004326385
ISBN (Print)9789004326378
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jun 2016
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameRethinking Socialism and Reform in China

Bibliographical note

(This article was first published in Chinese in Open Times, 2005, No.2)

The first fire at a foreign-invested industrial park in China occurred in May1990. That was a major fire, which broke out at a Hong Kong-invested factory that produced raincoats for export to the European and American markets. The factory was in a heavily industrialized region of the Pearl River Delta (珠三角) named Dongguan (东莞). Over 80 workers were swallowed up in the sea of flames. Following the tragedy, I went to a hospital in Guangzhou to visit the injured workers. That was the first time I had come into contact with China’s migrant workers. Later, in July 1990, I went with a friend to do a follow-up study of injured workers from four different villagers in Hubei Province (湖北省).


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