The Inconvenient Generation
Migrant Youth Coming of Age on Shanghai's Edge
Minhua Ling


Contents and Abstracts
Introduction: Coming of Age in an Urban Growth Dilemma
chapter abstract

The forced closure in 2007 of Jianying Hope School, a private school serving exclusively migrant workers' children, highlights the urban growth dilemma facing Shanghai: the city government is caught in the conflict between the need for human capital to maintain economic growth and the fear of overpopulation and overstretched social services. Tracing policy changes and discursive practices regarding rural-to-urban migration over three decades of market-oriented reforms, this introduction situates the coming of age of migrant youth in the politics of citizenship in late-socialist China. It looks into both the institutional apparatus and sociocultural practices through which the late-socialist state constitutes its migrant population as necessary but inconvenient subjects in its pursuit of urbanization and modernization.

1 Living on the Periurban Edge
chapter abstract

This chapter begins with a visit to a migrant family's makeshift residence situated on the northern edge of Shanghai amid waves of demolition for real estate development. It explores how migrant lives have been intertwined with the ever-changing periurban space during China's unprecedented urbanizing process. Rental housing on the city's outskirts, where most migrant youth live, signals both spatial and social insecurity collectively experienced. It also highlights the dialectic symbolism of such periurban spaces for understanding the making of "peasant worker" as a liminal subject in the context of development-oriented late socialism.

2 The "Reproduction Without Cultivation" Problem
chapter abstract

This chapter examines reproductive choices and child-rearing practices among migrant households, the majority of which have two or more offspring, and compares them with one-child households—as limited by China's one-child policy targeting urban residents until recently—that predominate Shanghai. It first problematizes the prevalent representation of migrant children as the inferior Other to urban only children in Shanghai and argues that the journalistic gaze implies a normative urban-centered view on childhood. It argues that the intimate practices of child bearing and child-rearing have become powerful sites for breeding prejudice and exercising exclusionary citizenship in urban China. In the same way that migrants' rentals on the city outskirts are seen as a signal of trespass, in the normative yousheng youyu (bearing and rearing better quality children) discourse, migrant families are represented and perceived as inferior and irresponsible, hence unentitled for equal citizenship.

3 Outsiders in Public Middle School
chapter abstract

This chapter illuminates how "exam closure"—the deprivation of migrant students' right to participate in local high school entrance examinations and to attend high school—has been instrumental to the segmented inclusion of migrant youth in Shanghai. Ethnographic details reveal the everyday practices at middle school that differentiate, even discriminate against, migrant students in anticipation of their compelled disappearance before the end of ninth grade. It also shows how the exam closure has affected migrant students' learning experiences and subjectivities. Migrant students who have chosen to stay in Shanghai cope with the enforced temporal suspension and lack of supervision at school by developing a culture of hun (passing the time to get by), minimizing effort in schoolwork, and engaging in consumption and leisure activities. Their consequent academic slide and disruptive classroom behaviors subsequently reinforce the stigmatization of migrant students in public schools and contributes to the segmented citizenship in Shanghai.

4 "Bad Students Go to Vocational Schools!"
chapter abstract

This chapter explores how migrant students adjusted to and experienced the limited opening up of public secondary vocational schools in Shanghai since 2008. Ethnographic details reveal the anxieties and ambivalence experienced by migrant students before and after enrolling in secondary vocational schools. This chapter reveals the continuous process of segmented inclusion of migrant youth and highlights the involvement of the local state in reproducing migrant youth as cheap semiskilled labor for the lower rungs of the labor market through the hukou institution and restrictions on educational eligibility. The stigma of vocational education, as well as limited school and specialization options, continues to deny them upward mobility. The provision of vocational schooling nevertheless does create a certain time and space for migrant youth to develop urban tastes and form new social relations and subjectivities that help them better navigate Shanghai's transitional urban economy and challenge the boundaries between rural and urban.

5 To Go Home or Not
chapter abstract

Migrant students aspiring to higher education have to return to their registered hometowns to prepare for the annual national university entrance examination. In this chapter, case studies of educational remigration demonstrate that institutional inequalities, regional disparities, and sociocultural alienation make such "home trips" fraught with contradictions and frustrations. Their stories of adaptation to the rural schooling system show how the entrenched rural-urban disparity has contributed to the perpetuation of in-betweenness among migrant youth. This chapter also explores migrant youths' relation to the countryside and the meaning of home in an increasingly deterritorialized society shaped by massive migration and rapid urbanization. Caught between their desire for a university education and preference for urban life in Shanghai, migrant youth experience more stress and disorientation than their urban peers.

6 Buying Belonging
chapter abstract

This chapter examines the consumer desires and experiences of second-generation migrant youth, who are often neglected in China's consumer markets. Ethnographic findings demonstrate that migrant youth actively consume material and cultural goods to construct their identity and sense of belonging. Illuminating the intricate relationship between consumption, place, and citizenship, this chapter argues that migrant youth prefer staying in Shanghai partly because the city is China's supreme marketplace, offering goods of better quality and greater variety for daily consumption. Their preference reflects China's entrenched geopolitical, administrative, and sociocultural hierarchies. Caught between these hierarchies, migrant youth are both empowered and disfranchised in an ongoing "consumer revolution" in urban China.

7 "No Good Prospects in Shanghai!"
chapter abstract

This chapter examines migrant youths' school-to-work transitions and explores how they experience the gap between youthful dreams and work experience and reconcile the two. It argues that for migrant students in Shanghai who are eligible to attend only vocational schools, inevitable conflicts arise between individual aspiration, market demand, and state intention as they embark on internships and full-time employment. After examining the aspirations and aversions expressed by migrant youth, the first part of this chapter describes their work experiences in state-required internships and first full-time jobs. It shows that the relative ease of securing job placement through a vocational school's network is nevertheless soon undermined by the hukou restrictions and social biases against rural migrants. Segmented inclusion as experienced by migrant youth in Shanghai's public school system has extended to the labor market.

Conclusion: Next-Generation Shanghai
chapter abstract

China's resilient socialist hukou system makes its internal migration experience a unique but important case for understanding the politics of citizenship. Recent policy modifications of the hukou system, gradual and selective, have aimed to achieve a desired urban population for economic development and social stability rather than addressing fundamental issues of equality and social justice. Migrant youth remain in an ambiguous condition and disadvantaged in both the administrative system and the sociocultural order. The case of Shanghai exemplifies the intensification, rather than reduction, of inequality in the era of globalization despite economic growth and urban development.