From “Country Bumpkins” to “Tough Workers”: The Pursuit of Masculinity Among Male Factory Workers in China
Abstract

This article explores the formation of a new industrial underclass in post-Mao China, focusing on a group of young male workers’ gendered interpretation of their subjection to an exploitative factory regime. I examine the experiential and performative dimensions of this subjection, which are intricately linked to China’s insertion into the global capitalist economy. The transformation of China into the “world’s factory” depended on the dramatic increase of foreign direct investment and the rapid expansion of labor-intensive, low-skilled factory jobs that favored the labor of rural migrant women. While the “feminization of production labor” generated some positive outcomes among the women workers, it turned a group of unskilled young male migrants into an industrial underclass. These men assumed menial jobs that drained their physical strength while offering virtually no chance of promotion or improvement in their future lives. Male workers reacted to the exploitative factory regime by engaging in binge drinking and extreme forms of anti-social behavior. This case study shows how class solidarity is sometimes deflected into the domain of gender conflict.


pdf