Tag Archives: popular culture

Representing and coping with early 20th-century Chongqing

Chabrowski, Igor (2013). Representing and coping with early twentieth-century Chongqing: “Guide songs” as maps, memory cells, and means of creating cultural imagery. Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review. E-Journal 6, p. 67-94. Retrieved 19 May 2014 from: https://cross-currents.berkeley.edu/e-journal/issue-6/Chabrowski.

Chongqing’s “guide songs” form an interesting subgenre among the broad category of haozi 號子 (workers’ songs). These early twentieth-century songs were a form of rhythm-based oral narrative describing Chongqing’s urban spaces, river docks, and harbors. Each toponym mentioned in the lyrics was followed by a depiction of the characteristic associations, whether visible or symbolic, of the place. This article aims to analyze the verbal images of Chongqing presented in these songs in order to understand how the city was remembered, reproduced, and represented. The article deconstructs representations of the city produced by the lower classes, mainly by Sichuan boatmen, and links culturally meaningful images of urban spaces with the historical experiences of work, religion, and historical-mythical memory. It also points to the functions that oral narratives had in the urban environment of early twentieth-century Chongqing. Rhythmic and easy to remember, the songs provided ready-to-use guides and repositories of knowledge useful to anyone living or working there. A cross between utilitarian resource books and cultural representations, they shaped modes of thinking and visualizations of urban spaces and Chongqing. Finally, this article responds to the need to employ popular culture in our thinking about Chinese cities and the multiplicity of meanings they were given in pre-Communist times.


Monique Abud

Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine, EHESS, Paris, France

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Migrant labour culture in post-Mao China

Eric Florence (2013), Migrant labour culture in post-Mao China, Institut du Monde Contemporain (Collège de France) http://hdl.handle.net/2268/144791.

Against a backdrop of economic growth and growing spate of collective actions, rural migrant workers have developed narratives of migrant labour. This essay studies articles, diaries, poems and online songs asserting their collective subaltern identity and specific norms and values.

A political economy of rapid accumulation, a very harsh labour regime, and the violence ─ both physical and symbolic ─ generated by the combination of global capitalism and post-Mao China state socialism are a challenge for a regime whose founding narratives are grounded upon the rejection of capitalist exploitation. The whole social hierarchy of post-Mao China as well as its economy of representations have been reworked, and labour is the field where transformations in societal values and norms have been most important. This is why focusing on the cultural practices related to rural migrant labour provides an interesting vantage point to study processes of workers’ collective identification. Examining the political economy of the Pearl River Delta highlights two major features: on the one hand, the combined action of residence and labour permit mechanisms have gone hand in hand with factories’ disciplinary labour regimes, imposing a high degree of flexibility upon workers and keeping wages at an extremely low level; on the other hand, a whole body of legislations and regulations has been developed by the Party-state in the face of increasingly conflicting labour-relations. These elements are crucial to understand the narrative practices relating to dagong.

Read the full text of the article on the open archive Orbi


Jacqueline Nivard

Jacqueline Nivard, Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine

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