Cover of Strangers in the City by Li Zhang
Strangers in the City
Reconfigurations of Space, Power, and Social Networks Within China’s Floating Population
Li Zhang


304 pages.

Paperback ISBN: 9780804742061
Ebook ISBN: 9780804779340

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Winner of the 2001 Robert E. Park Award, sponsored by the American Sociological Association.

With rapid commercialization, a booming urban economy, and the relaxation of state migration policies, over 100 million peasants, known as China’s “floating population,” have streamed into large cities seeking employment and a better life. This massive flow of rural migrants directly challenges Chinese socialist modes of state control.

This book traces the profound transformations of space, power relations, and social networks within a mobile population that has broken through the constraints of the government’s household registration system. The author explores this important social change through a detailed ethnographic account of the construction, destruction, and eventual reconstruction of the largest migrant community in Beijing. She focuses on the informal privatization of space and power in this community through analyzing the ways migrant leaders build their power base by controlling housing and market spaces and mobilizing social networks.

The author argues that to gain a deeper understanding of recent Chinese social and political transformations, one must examine not only to what extent state power still dominates everyday social life, but also how the aims and methods of late socialist governance change under new social and economic conditions. In revealing the complexities and uncertainties of the shifting power and social relations in post-Mao China, this book challenges the common notion that sees recent changes as an inevitable move toward liberal capitalism and democracy.

About the author

Li Zhang is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Davis

"Li Zhang's fascinating study of migrant workers in Beijing will add much to scholars' understanding of power structures in 'late-reform-era China.'"

Asian Affairs

"For all students and scholars wanting to understand the rapidly changing nature of the workforce in China's cities, Stangers in the City should be required reading. It is also a lively and extremely well written account of the struggle to survive (and sometimes thrive) in urban China."

Asian Affairs

"All in all, this is an excellent study of an important migrant community in China and adds a great deal to the existing scholarship on Chinese society and politics. The author struck a wonderful balance between social theory and ethnography, which serves as a model for any student interested in studying spatial politics and power relations in other kinds of communities in a non-Chinese context. For a study that draws liberally on contemporary social theories and postmodernist thinking, it is also pleasantly jargon free. I thus recommend this book highly not only to students of contemporary China, but to a wider readership interested in issues of migration, urbanization, and political change in postsocialist and developing countries."

The Journal of Asian Studies

"In short, this is an excellent ethnographic analysis and a moving piece of social commentary on China's late socialism."

American Journal of Sociology

"Strangers in the City is a valuable addition to our understanding of contemporary China. The issues it deals with are important ones in China and for anthropology."

—American Ethnologist