The Urbanization of People: 
Development, Labor Markets, and Schooling in the Chinese City

Date: 4/23/2021

Time: 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm EST

Presenter: Dr. Cli Friedman

Associate Professor and Chair | Department of International and Comparative Labor | ILR School, Cornell University


Since 2014, the Chinese central government has been pushing for more people to move to cities, as they believe that increased urbanization will be necessary in advancing a new phase of economic development. But despite cities' heavy reliance on the labor of rural migrants, major institutional obstacles remain for those wishing to settle permanently. Perhaps the most important form of social exclusion for migrant workers is in education. Using the school system as a lens on the urbanization process, I ask how local governments are managing flows of people into the city, which groups are included in which places and why, and what the socio-economic consequences of this approach are for Chinese society. My key empirical argument is that urban governments are providing access to public education precisely to those that need it least, i.e. families with already high levels of economic, cultural, and social capital. The only option for excluded migrants is to enroll their children in resource-starved private schools, which are sometimes subjected to closure and even coercive demolition. Elite cities have developed evaluative frameworks that allow them to fully incorporate those migrants judged to be of high quality, while the "low-end populations" are shunted away to smaller, less well-resourced locales with inferior public services. These conditions appear likely to reinforce existing social and spatial forms of inequality.


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Nezha and Miaoshan: Myth, Desire and Chinese Patriliny

Date: 2/16/2021

Time: 10:00 am EST

Presenter: Dr. Steven Sangren

Hu Shih Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Cornell University


The stories of Nezha (a rebellious son) and Miaoshan (a filial daughter) invite a wider consideration of Chinese patriliny as a “mode of production of desire.”  Such stories exemplify a genre of Chinese hagiographies that, taken together, constitute an important, culturally specific, medium of speculation upon the nature and production of personhood and gender identity.  They also implicate a variety of conceptual and methodological issues surrounding the interpretation of myth, ancestor worship, gender ideology, and the psychological complexity of filial sentiments.  Most broadly, their analysis also raises issues of general significance for understanding culture’s operations in linking individual desire and culturally specific social arrangements.  Is desire best understood as a “cultural construction” or as a human universal? 


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