‘Emotional authoritarianism’ : state, education and the mobile working-class subjects

Ngai PUN*, Jack QIU

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Examining emotions within the studies of mobilities, recent literature has highlighted that migration is an inherently uncertain process shaped by hopes and dreams, as well as feelings of fear and anxiety. More than an individual pursuit for economic advancement or cultural assimilation, we find that migration is also a political project that incessantly creates valuable working-class subjects; a project that often starts in vocational training school, a site generating multiple forms of mobility between learning and workspaces. In the context of China, this article explores the emotional reproduction of working-class subjects through schooling and internship experiences, students’ sense of belonging to the nation-state, their aspirations and fears for the future. Developing the concept of ‘emotional authoritarianism’, it examines the ways in which working-class students were influenced by state-engineered nationalistic sentiments, and how it became a conflictual process of subject-making. Emotional governance is a peculiar political strategy that shapes the emotions of working-class students who are expected to serve the growth of the national economy and transnational capitalism. We discover that mixed emotions or ‘emotions in conflict’ are fundamental to the class reproduction of migrant agents, torn among different bodies and desires in ‘learning to labour’.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)620-634
Number of pages15
Issue number4
Early online date25 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

The work described in this article was substantially supported by a grant from the Research Grants Council (RGC), Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China [C5010-15G "Learning to Labour: Social Media and Migrant Labor Protection in Mainland China"].


  • China
  • emotion
  • Migration
  • nationalism
  • subject-making
  • working-class students


Dive into the research topics of '‘Emotional authoritarianism’ : state, education and the mobile working-class subjects'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this