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147 6 Conflicting Impulses Mobility Encouraged and Hindered T he association between movement and fecundity and the imagery of uncontrolled swarming that migration evokes in China (as it does elsewhere) are expressed in the following quote: Apart from chungong (pornography) and chunyao (aphrodisiac), chunyun (the mass movement of migrant workers around the Spring Festival) is probably the most exciting, the most unhealthy as well as the most disrespected compound with [the character] chun (spring) in the contemporary Chinese language. . . . Experts say that this demonstrates China’s “rapid urbanization” . . . I don’t know what the signs of the imminent tide of “urbanization” should be, but I believe they shouldn’t include this “feast of mobility” that makes no one except the ticket touts excited. (Shen Hongfei 2003) Chunyun, the spring migration, conjures up images of an unstoppable , formidable biological event, like the drift of ice down the rivers, the migration of fish, or the swarming of bees. The text, in the popular Sanlian Life Weekly, makes fun of the official equation of mobility with modernity by reminding readers of the feelings of nuisance, revulsion, and danger associated with chunyun. It also reflects the tension between the ideology that tells Chinese people to get moving for the sake of prosperity and the reality of obstacles, both official and mundane, that spring up on their way. In this chapter, I discuss how the emerging discourse that frames what Xiang Biao calls China’s new mobility regime (“a constellation of policies, cultural norms and networks that condition migration” [Xiang 2007:73]) deals with that tension. Most discussions on the future of the hukou regime, while nowadays emphasizing the importance of the freedom of movement, nonetheless stress that this freedom should be kept within limits. For example, Wang Taiyuan, an associate professor of hukou management studies (huzhengxue) at Public Security University, says: No matter how high a degree of freedom of movement we implement, it must still be carried out within the framework of appropriate national and local laws and regulations; only population that meets the requirements contained in these laws and regulations will be able to exercise its freedom of movement and residence as it wishes. (Shi Yaoxin 2000) This sense that freedom of movement cannot be absolute stems from the conviction that an uncontrolled flow of migrants is bound to overburden urban services and infrastructure to the point of collapse. The term liudong renkou, which I have translated as “transient population” and which remains one of the most common terms for internal migrants, itself carries connotations of a wave or flood (liu means “to flow”), similes often used in reporting about rural migrants in cities.1 The character liu, as Jacka (2006:44) points out, has additional negative connotations, as it is used in the terms liumang (hooligan) and liulang (to roam, to wander ). Another pair of terms often applied to internal migrants is militaryrelated : jun (army) and dui (troops). Although in Chinese newspaper language these terms can have positive connotations of victory and progress , they can also sound threatening, as in the heading “The Southwest- Conflicting Impulses 149 ern Railway Is Groaning: A Report on Seeing Off the ‘Sichuan Army’ This Spring Festival” (Gan and Deng 1993). As Tamara Jacka (2006:31n1) points out, the view of rural migrants that conjures up images of chaos is broadly shared between official and popular discourse. She quotes sociologist Yu Depeng: Regardless of whether it is the conversation of ordinary urbanites or the opinions of important government officials that one is listening to, regardless of whether one is watching a popular film or television program or reading the work of an authoritative expert, one will be given more or less the same description of rural people who enter urban areas: that is, that they are, in the main, stupid, dirty, lacking in breeding, and without any sense of shame. You will be told that the country people pouring into the cities are, if not active, then latent, robbers and plunderers, prostitutes and pimps, “out of plan guerrillas” [i.e., violators of family planning] and carriers and transmitters of contagious diseases. (Ibid.:42) Jacka points out further that articles on the floating population tend to conform to a standard structure (ibid.:46–47). In the 1980s and 1990s, they adopted what she calls a managerial perspective: having first established the division of urban society into city people (including the author and the readers) and rural migrants, they proceeded to lay out the benefits and then the...


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