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Beyond the Overlooked Rural Narrative in Chinese Migrant Worker Literature: On Liang Hong’s and Sun Huifen’s works

Shuang Liu
p. 41-49

Abstract

The focus of literary works about Chinese rural-to-urban migrant workers is often on their urban experience, in which they are mostly portrayed as a socially disadvantaged group and a deviant presence in urban life. The reader less frequently encounters a complementary rural narrative on migrant workers’ experience of their native countryside. This is remarkable, since the countryside holds demonstrable importance for migrant workers, and studying the associated rural narrative is essential for understanding the intricacies and diversity of the migrant worker experience as a whole. By closely reading two literary texts, Liang Hong’s nonfictional China in One Village: The Story of One Town and the Changing World (2010), and Sun Huifen’s novel Jikuan’s Carriage (2007), this paper shows the complex connection between migrant workers and the countryside, adding a key element to our understanding of this much discussed demographic, its literary representations, and of subaltern cultural production in general.

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Editor’s notes

Manuscript received on 6 March 2023. Accepted on 8 August 2023.

Excerpt

Full text document will be published online on March 2025.

Outline

Introduction
The view from the countryside: Liang Hong’s China in One Village
The outer circle: An overview of migrant workers
The second circle: The left-behind elderly and the left-behind children
The inner circle: Left-behind wife Chunmei
Memories of the countryside: Sun Huifen’s Jikuan’s Carriage
Preface: Jikuan and his rural home
Rural memory as resistance to the city
Interaction: The re-creation of rural memory
Equation: The city is a village
Concluding remarks

First lines

Introduction

Ever since the onset of China’s rapid modernisation and urbanisation in the 1980s, hundreds of millions of farmers have flocked from the countryside to the cities in search of jobs. They are China’s internal migrant workers, also known as “打工 dagongpeople in Chinese (dagong zhe 打工者). Dagong, which can be translated as “working for the boss,” as in selling one’s labour, is a term used to describe farmers from rural areas who travel to cities to work precarious manual jobs that require long hours but offer low compensation. Although migrant workers or dagong people are the primary drivers of China’s economic growth, they are not always its beneficiaries. Many of them live and work in deplorable conditions and are denied fundamental civil rights because of their lack of urban household registration (hukou 戶口). At the same time, they are a socially disadvantaged group that is widely seen as “backward,” as a deviant presence in urban life, and potentially a source of social...

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References

Bibliographical reference

Shuang Liu, Beyond the Overlooked Rural Narrative in Chinese Migrant Worker Literature: On Liang Hong’s and Sun Huifen’s worksChina Perspectives, 136 | 2024, 41-49.

Electronic reference

Shuang Liu, Beyond the Overlooked Rural Narrative in Chinese Migrant Worker Literature: On Liang Hong’s and Sun Huifen’s worksChina Perspectives [Online], 136 | 2024, Online since 01 March 2025, connection on 14 April 2024. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/chinaperspectives/16508; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/chinaperspectives.16508

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About the author

Shuang Liu

Shuang Liu is a PhD candidate at the Institute for Area Studies at Leiden University, Matthias de Vrieshof 3, 2311 BZ, Leiden, The Netherlands (ccliushuang@gmail.com).

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Copyright

The text and other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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