Markets and Bodies: Women, Service Work, and the Making of Inequality in China

By Siu, Kaxton | The China Journal, January 2013 | Go to article overview
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Markets and Bodies: Women, Service Work, and the Making of Inequality in China


Siu, Kaxton, The China Journal


Markets and Bodies: Women, Service Work, and the Making of Inequality in China, by Eileen Otis. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012. xiv + 213 pp. US$80.00 (hardcover), US$24.95 (paperback and eBook).

In studies of Chinese labor, most research has focused on Chinas manufacturing industry. Eileen Otis s book is one of the few attempts to examine service work critically, focusing on the tourist and hotel industries in two Chinese me tropoUses- Beijing and Kunming. Otis studies China's globalizing service economy by examining women service workers' "embodiment" and "embeddedness". Her book suggests that, instead of assuming a homogeneous feminized labor process, China's service workplaces should be approached through the analysis of the formations of local consumer markets, selective inheritance of socialist-era institutional legacies, and varying degrees of localization of global managerial templates.

The introductory chapter reviews influential works on service labor, especially ArUe Hochschild's concept of "emotion work" (which depicts how a service worker alters her own affective state to shape the emotional responses of a customer). Chapter 1 traces the historical evolution of women's work in China, documents shifts in women's work patterns and explains the emergence of China's consumer sector. This chapter also provides a historical and macroeconomic context for the analyses of the three empirical cases which comprise Chapters 2 through 4.

Chapter 2 examines the operations of a five-star Beijing hotel owned jointly by the Chinese government and a US-based hotel corporation. The hotel implements a set of labor practices caUed "virtual personaUsm". Female workers are trained to emphasis their femininity, and to coUect customers' tastes, Ufestyles and preferences (which are stored in computers) in order to provide highly personal and individuaUzed services. Hotel managers combine Western management templates with sociaUst-era redistributive welfare legacies to weld trust relations with workers. While interacting with male customers, women workers use "face-giving" gestures to imbue customers with a sense of high status, and, at the same time, create social distance from customers to maintain their autonomy.

Chapter 3 compares this case with a second set of labor practices, "virtuous professionaUsm", in a hotel in Kunming. While the Beijing hotel's cUentele are Western businessmen, the Kunming hotel targets affluent domestic businessmen. Instead of adopting socialist redistributive welfare practices, the Kunming hotel management reproduces another sociaUst-era legacy, a system of jobpost inheritance (dingti), in which employees' offspring replace their retiring parents.

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