Half-emptiness: Aspiration and Angst of the Chinese Dream in Rural China
Min-hua Ling - Fellow, Institute for Advanced Study 2022-2023
China’s rural-urban divide and local-non-local distinctions sustained by the hukou (household registration) system continue to shape the life trajectories of millions of internal migrants, a large number of who are being channeled to return to their registered hometowns and villages. Drawing on long-term fieldwork in both rural and urban ends, this talk examines how migrants prepare for a presumed but indeterminate rural-bound return by showcasing some of the “material symbols of return” - objects in rural households, including the physical house itself - enabled or brought in by migrants. Return is shown as a continuous, translocal process integral to household reproduction in a highly uneven citizenship regime. The aspiration and angst of migrant households also represent the social formation of “half-emptiness,” where the Chinese Dream as the party-state has promoted through the New Socialist Countryside campaign among other policies reconfigures the spatiotemporal arrangements of power in both domestic and public spheres without delivering its promised prosperity and happiness.
As a sociocultural anthropologist, Ling Minhua focuses on the processes and ramifications of migration and urbanization in China to study mobility, inequality, development, sustainability, identity, governance, and state-society relations among other issues. Her research appeared in leading international journals such as China Quarterly, China Journal, Anthropological Quarterly, Urban Studies, position: asia critique, and HAU: Theory of Ethnographic Theory. Her book The Inconvenient Generation: Migrant Youth Coming of Age on Shanghai’s Edge (Stanford University Press, 2020) offers the first longitudinal monograph of China’s second-generation rural-to-urban migrants and reveals the making of inequality in everyday practices of urban inclusion and exclusion under late-socialism. Currently, she is a Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton working on multiple projects, including a second book that explores socioecological transformation in rural China after three decades of labor migration and state-led urbanization. She taught at the Chinese University of Hong Kong as Assistant Professor (2013-20) and Associate Professor (2020-22) after receiving a PhD in anthropology from Yale, and will join the Department of Anthropology and Sociology in the Geneva Graduate Institute as Associate Professor in the fall of 2023.