Accepted paper:

From zagong to laoban? Economic diversification, crisis of upward social mobility and returnee migration among Chinese migrants in Prato (Italy)


Sara Iacopini

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyses both the recent entrepreneurial diversification of Wenzhouese in Prato (Italy) and the crisis of upward social mobility among Chinese migrants from Fujian and Dongbei, as well as the decision taken by a growing number of Chinese of leaving the city as a results of various factors

Paper long abstract:

Wenzhouese migrants began arriving in Prato - a mid-sized city with the highest percentage of Chinese residents of any Italian province - in the early 1990s as workers in the textile industrial district. Over the last decade, they have been able to set up their own businesses, moving from the role of subcontractors for Italian firms to that of final firms in the pronto moda (ready-to-wear fast fashion). More recently, they have embarked in different activities, ranging from the ethnic service sector, the opening of wholesale and retail businesses, the gainful sector of importing and marketing goods from China, to the so-called "mimetic businesses", and new forms of entrepreneurship, embedded in the Italian society. A new, well-off 'middle class' is therefore emerging. However, due to (at least) four factors intertwined with each other at various levels - 1. the global economic crisis which has harmed the Chinese garment industry as well as Prato textile district, 2. the crisis of upward social mobility experienced by those migrants without strong chain migration and guanxi (i.e. Chinese from Fujian and Dongbei), 3. the implementation of financial controls imposed by Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, 4. an unfriendly social climate towards Chinese migrants which led, in 2009, to the victory of a right-wing coalition after 63 years of left-wing local government - a growing number of Chinese entrepreneurs are deciding to come back to their motherland or move elsewhere. This paper also intends to scrutinize the consequences of these dynamics on Prato economy and Italian economy overall.

panel MMM08
Migration and the labour market: a comparative study between the EU and Asia (IUAES Commission on Enterprise Anthropology)