Working in China: Ethnographies of Labor and Workplace Transformation, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Working in China

Ethnographies of Labor and Workplace Transformation, 1st Edition

Edited by Ching Kwan Lee


258 pages

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After a quarter of a century of market reform, China has become the workshop of the world and the leading growth engine of the global economy. Its immense labour force accounts for some twenty-nine per cent of the world's total labour pool but all too little is known about Chinese labour beyond the image of workers toiling under appalling sweatshop conditions for extremely low wages.

Working in China introduces the lived experiences of labour in a wide range of occupations and work settings. The chapters of this book cover professional employees such as engineers and lawyers, service workers such as bar hostesses, domestic maids and hotel workers, and industrial workers in a variety of factories. The mosaic of human faces, organizational dynamics and workers' voices presented in the book reflect the complexity of changes and challenges taking place in the Chinese workplace today.

Based on extraordinary and thorough field research, this book will have a wide readership at undergraduate level and beyond, appealing to students and scholars from a myriad of disciplines including Chinese studies, labour studies, sociology and political economy.


'This is in many ways a very appealing book proposal. The various authors are steeped in research on a wide variety of occupations in contemporary China, and they all appear to be based on significant ethnographic of field interview research. The editor, Prof Lee, is very highly regarded, and has a strong track record of significant publications in this area: indeed she can probably now be considered the leading person in this area.' - Andrew Walder, Stanford University

'I could go on about the fascination of these studies but let me just say that the editor, Ching Kwan Lee, is surely now the leading scholar of Chinese labor after her award winning book and her daring studies of labor protest. You should grab this book and put it into print as quickly as you can. It is a superb compilation of the very best of a new generation of China scholars' - Michael Burawoy, University of California, Berkeley

'It is a terrific project, based on exciting and thorough field research, it's in great shape, and it will be widely read. I will assign it in courses on China but also on comparative labour… It brings together outstanding new research, incisive, persuasive analysis, great stories, and refreshing, compelling style.' - Marc Blecher, Oberlin College

'This is a powerful, authoritative, wonderfully detailed, tightly argued, and, for the most part, superbly written digest of ethnographies. Its interdisciplinary cast will make it valuable for a wide range of readers, whether scholars, graduate students setting out on their own reserch in the field, or undergraduates in a large variety of courses. It serves as a milestone in the field of contemporary China studies and will surely be a model for any future work of its kind.' - Dorothy Solinger, China Information, Vol. 21 Issue 2, July 2007

'This excellent book undoubtedly contributes to a revision of our perception of the workplace in China. Those interested by labour issues will be rewarded, as will anyone actually working and living in China.' - Antoine Kernen, Chinese Cross Currents, Volume 4 Number 3, July 2007

Table of Contents

Introduction 1. Mapping the Terrain of Labor Ethnography Ching Kwan Lee Part I: Remaking Class and Community 2. The Unmaking the Chinese Working Class in the Northeastern Rustbelt Ching Kwan Lee 3. "Social Positions": Neighbourhood Transition After the Danwei Sian Victoria Liu 4. Rural "Guerrilla Workfare" Workers and Home Renovation in Urban China Lei Guang 5.A Tale of Two Sales Floors: Changing Service Work Regimes in China Amy Hanser Part II: Reworking Gender 6. Virtual Personalism in Beijing: Learning Deference and Femininity at a Global Luxury Hotel Eileen Otis 7. From Peasant Women to Bar Hostesses: An Ethnography of China's Karaoke Sex Industry Tiantian Zheng 8. Rurality and Labor Process Autonomy: The Waged Labor of Domestic Service Hairong Yan Part III: New Professions and Knowledge Workers 9. The Practice of Law as an Obstacle to Justice: Chinese Lawyers at Work Ethan Michelson 10. Outsourcing as a Way of Life? Knowledge Transfer in the Yangtze Delta Andrew Ross 11. Nationalism, Theft and Management Strategies in the Information Industry of Mainland China Dimitri Kessler 12. Honing the Desired Attitudes: Ideological Work On Insurance Sales Agents Cheris Shun-Ching Chan

About the Editor

Ching Kwan Lee is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Michigan, USA.

About the Series

Asia's Transformations

The books in this series explore the political, social, economic and cultural consequences of Asia's twenty-first century transformations. The series emphasizes the tumultuous interplay of local, national, regional and global forces as Asia bids to become the hub of the world economy. While focusing on the contemporary, it also looks back to analyze the antecedents of Asia's contested rise. Asia's Transformations aims to address the needs of students and teachers.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Labor & Industrial Relations
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Economic Conditions
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Ethnic Studies / General