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Accepted Paper:

"All People are Equal": The Intersections of Suzhi, Ethnicity, and Class Amongst Migrant Labour in Shenzhen, PR China  


Pablo Ampuero Ruiz (Universiteit van Amsterdam)

Paper short abstract:

I focus on the use of suzhi amongst migrant workers in Shenzhen and how it relates to ethnic exclusion and social hierarchies in the process of class formation. Suzhi portends a racist practice mediating collective solidarities and exclusions.

Paper long abstract:

The multiple dimensions of the process of class formation in China have been a matter of increasing debate. For more than a decade, China specialists have been discussing the meanings and implications of the concept of suzhi, usually translated as "quality", and its critical role in the post-Maoist era of the People's Republic of China. Some scholars have situated suzhi as constitutive of the country's "neoliberal governmentality", expressed in coding the value of human subjectivities and bodies. Others have called for a historicist approach that avoids reifying neoliberalism in a context where socialist and other Modernities are still valid paradigms. In this presentation, I propose a different perspective on suzhi as interconnected with the process of class formation. I argue that suzhi discourse encompasses ideas of civilisation and ways of behaving and being that are racist in nature. These discourses and practices are built around the historical reality of the Han and have gained special relevance in the post-Maoist hegemonic project. Hence, suzhi operates as a mediator of working-class formation on the lines of ethnic and regional differentiations where Han and "hanified" ethnic groups are favoured and those groups seen as pious—e.g. Uyghur and Tibetan—are marginalised. I present two ethnographic cases, collected during my year-long fieldwork in Shenzhen between September 2018 and July 2019, to characterise and analyse the use of the concept of suzhi by Han migrant workers and how it conveys ideas and practices of ethnic exclusion embedded in the country's neoliberal hegemonic project.

Panel P033
Bringing race-making and class struggles in plantations and export industries back to the research agenda