On the Move: Women in Rural-to-Urban Migration in Contemporary China

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On the Move: Women in Rural-to-Urban Migration in Contemporary China, edited by Arianne M. Gaetano and Tamara Jacka. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004. x + 355 pp. US$69.50/£46.50 (hardback), US$29.50/ £20.00 (paperback).

Since the beginning of economic reforms, the "floating population" of temporary rural migrants in China's cities has been a conspicuous feature of the changes sweeping the nation. The migrants have provided service workers and unskilled labor and later have comprised the semi-skilled, docile work force demanded by multinational enterprises. There has been a need for additional studies on the experiences of women migrants in the urban places of destination and in their rural places of origin. On the Move, edited by Arianne Gaetano and Tamara Jacka, helps to fill this need.

The Introduction discusses the major issues addressed by the book and includes a concise background history of Chinese policies relating to rural-to-urban migration. The three chapters in the first section examine dagongmei, the young women who migrate to cities for work, in terms of both their self-image and how they are perceived by others. The two chapters in the second section look at the ways in which the migrant women see their migration in relation to their life course, and especially the role of marriage in women's plans. The third section comprises three chapters about rural places of origin, in which both returnees and non-migrant women are given a voice. The book concludes with a particularly interesting collection of short pieces written by migrant women.

As with any collection of academic essays, some are better than others, but all add insights into the situation of migrant women in China. A recurring theme is the contrasting ways in which the women are perceived. Tiantian Zheng describes the urban stereotypes of rural women and suggests the ways in which they try to overcome these negative images. Lin Tan and Susan Short speak of the "double outsiders"-rural women who are not accepted as equals in the city and who are also no longer considered to fit into the village. The resulting ambivalence about the migration experience is clearly articulated in a number of essays, especially as this relates to the pressures to get married. C. Cindy Fan, for example, finds that many of her female interviewees were under great pressure from parents to marry, but that they were reluctant to return to the countryside and marry a village man. At the same time, they were not considered desirable brides for urban men. As a result, as Tan and Short find, such rural migrant women are more likely to marry urban men who are poor, disabled or uneducated.

Despite the constraints and discrimination that characterize the migration experience for so many of the women, many see a value in working in the city. …