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Young Chinese and Compressed Socialization

In: Youth and Globalization
Author:
Laurence Roulleau-Berger CNRS, École Normale Supérieure de Lyon, France

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According to Cheng Li (2021), China’s Millennial Generation is the first in which the majority of its members have lived in an affluent society and the product of several processes: “the Chinese economic miracle,” the largest expansion of higher education, the largest internal migration, the introduction of the one-child policy, the advent of the internet and social media. Since the reform and opening-up in 1979, the socialization process of young people has increasingly diversified, and it is important to note from the outset that the socialist State has played a major role transforming the model for entering adult life in Chinese society which, prior to 1979, seemed to consist of a system of staggered changes in status according to age, highly contextualized historically and linked to the Maoist period.

This special issue of Youth and Globalization is dedicated to the analysis of the entry into adulthood of young Chinese people, which has been deeply revolutionized in the context of compressed modernity (Chang, 2017) at the end of the twentieth century, moving from an almost instantaneous pre-reform mode to one involving plural, paradoxical and contracted socializations (Roulleau-Berger, 2021; Roulleau-Berger and Su, 2022). Today the entry into adulthood of young Chinese people means a process of compressed socialization, characterized by six intertwined and dynamic trends:

  1. a.a double movement of rural-urban migration and the re-migration to medium-small cities or rural areas;
  2. b.the integration of youth in digital economy and the production of digital inequalities;
  3. c.economic insecurity, structural dequalification for Chinese youth and the production of collective anxiety;
  4. d.the simultaneity of the hyper-individuation of social experience and strategies of disalienation;
  5. e.the transformation of intergenerational relations and family life;
  6. f.young Chinese and the global economy.

In part 1 we will see in a context of compressed modernity, how precarization and spatial circulations do influence the young Chinese in the process of compressed socialization.

In part 2, we will demonstrate how rural-urban migrants do escape economic non-integration, social discrimination and urban expulsion, so now they are involved in re-migrations and rural or urban—in medium-size or small cities—re-affiliation.

In a context of compressed modernity the digital economy has taken on a decisive status in the production of inequalities between different categories of young people and their modes of economic integration, and this is what Part 3 will be devoted to.

In the part 4 we will analyze how the collusion between different regimes of modernity gives in social and economic lives rise to normative injunctions to become “heroes” in Chinese society where the compressed Individual (Roulleau-Berger, 2018) is constrained to hyper-individuation. Compressed modernity also generates collusion between different regimes of modernity and tradition in family life.

In the part 5 we could understand how young Chinese, especially from new middle-class youth, how they are becoming actors of disalienation in rejection wage subordination and forced work, how they are developing singular strategies of suspension.

Finally, in compressed modernity young Chinese are more and more cosmopolitan, involved in global business and they are circulating on transnational spaces between China and many countries. So in part 6 we will see how Young Chinese are more and more compressed and living in global condition.

1 Compressed Socialization and Chinese Youth

Over the past 20 years in China, the steps to entering adult life in China have shifted radically, gradually moving from a pre-1979 instantaneous mode, to a post-1979 compression mode. Today, the steppingstones that traced the path of life in China are harder to identify and their order is no longer predictable. This is reflected in the ever-increasing length of time between leaving home and school, entering the workforce and finding a spouse, the desynchronization of the crossing of thresholds that epitomized the traditional model of entry into adult life in Chinese society, and the emergence of in-between situations, superpositions and overlaps in work and family life. In fact, what characterizes today’s Chinese youth is not so much the desynchronization of the crossing of thresholds as their compression with the rise of economic insecurity, the reversibility of social status, the diversity of family life forms and the modes of youth socialization in large-medium-small cities and rural areas in China (Chen and Chen, 2023).

In a process of compressed socialization, we can distinguish different categories of young people of rural and urban origin according to their social resources, vocational skills, education and social background. In a climate of increasing economic insecurity, mass education, growing inequalities and the intensification of internal and international mobility, Chinese youths are confronted with situations of structural deskilling and collective disillusionment. The last decade in China has been marked by increased competition, the devaluation of academic achievement, a diminishing return on academic investment and, in parallel, a steady rise in the social aspirations of young people (Roulleau-Berger and Su, 2022). Young Chinese are internalizing the imperative of autonomy in a context of compressed modernity and an authoritarian regime. Young skilled Chinese move and circulate to improve their skills and education levels and to develop upward social mobility’s trajectories. The biographies of young low-skilled migrants are structured around spatial discontinuities and horizontal social mobility. For the children of rural-urban migrants, competition for high-quality higher education resources has become increasingly fierce.

On labor markets the phenomenon of structural disqualification impacts young Chinese, and the risk of downward social mobility has affected the young middle-class. The digital lifestyle is an important feature for young people in contemporary China; digital inequalities are dividing young people from higher vocational colleges and universities, as well as in urban and rural areas.

In compressed modernity, the phenomena of unemployment and precariat disrupt the established calendars of different life cycles: childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Describing the socialization of young people in terms of the idea of almost absolute stability, both in the labor market and in family life, seems anachronistic in contemporary Chinese society. The socialization process of young Chinese today appears to be particularly complex and dynamic due to the heterogeneity, the variety of employment situations and the intertwining of forms of work in biographical trajectories. Primary and secondary socializations, the internalization processes of systems and values, and the agency of young people appear to be plural, but also compressed. While each individual engages in a plurality of socializations, which are active or passive depending on the context, young Chinese men and women are under strong pressure to mobilize their economic, social, and symbolic assets and resources in heterogeneous situations and socializing experiences. This strong pressure forces them to develop powerful capacities for action, adaptation, and resistance in an authoritarian context. The social life of the Chinese youth revolves around several dilemmas, such as the demand for upward mobility and the narrow channels of social mobility. For Li Chunling (2021), the obsessive material desire and the rise of the consumer society have also created high social aspirations, anxiety, confusion, and restlessness; and the digital revolution has changed the lives of all generations in China and young people’s lives are highly penetrated by digital applications.

We will retain the idea of a plurality of socializations that collide and propagate in the context of compressed modernity, but also clash with each other. Compressed modernity contains emotional capitalism (Illouz, 2006)—i.e. a culture where emotional and economic practices and discourses influence each other and where feelings and emotions become commodities, as it is the case for an emotional socialism in China. The compressed Individual has internalized the imperative to invent a narrative of self-improvement, giving rise to young Chinese entrepreneurs and leaders both in China and abroad.

“Successful” and “unsuccessful” compressed Individuals (Roulleau-Berger, 2021) coexist, the latter being excluded from collective systems and the security of community collectives. The “unsuccessful” compressed individual emerges as the “loser” in emotional capitalism and cannot create a narrative of self-improvement; he or she lacks resources and support networks and have diminished self-ownership (Castel, 2001). And he or she is deprived of all forms of public recognition in the plurality of spaces and temporalities. The effects of the collisions inherent in compressed modernity reinforce moral economies of shame and contempt. It is in this category that low-skilled young Chinese migrants, undocumented migrants, sex workers, etc. are located. In high-order compressed modernity, the effects of collision strengthen the position of the successful compressed individual, who seeks perpetual self-improvement. The “unsuccessful” compressed individual, however, is driven down a path of self-deterioration. Social conflicts reveal tensions in the widening gap between these two compressed individuals in high-order compressed modernity, a catalyst for acts of individual and collective resistance, i.e. protests and suicide.

Young Chinese are confined to a plurality of temporalities and spaces in which they develop forms of action, mobilisation, and reflexivity, including practical skills adapted to each new stage. Under compressed modernity, they are constantly engaged in a process of identity change. Faced with the dismantling of their previous nomic structure of subjective reality (Berger and Luckmann, 1986), they have to re-socialise. This process of identity change requires emotional skills and produces moral careers which, when applied to self-improvement, create anchor points, attachments, and social affiliations. However, when applied to self-deterioration, they produce dissociation, stigmatisation, and social exclusion.

2 Migration, Urban Socialization, and Rural Re-affiliation

In China, the process of compressed socialization of youth is characterized by the experience of the migration and multiple spatial, occupational, and social mobilities between urban and rural zones. The experience of mobility is central to understanding the socialization process of young Chinese. Chinese sociologists assign a central position to space, both as a constraint and as a resource, that may be used by individuals to enrich their repertoire of social and economic resources at each new stage of migration. Until the 2000s, rural and urban youth could be thought of as separate—and even opposing—entities; the weakening of the hukou1 (户口, household and civil registration system) encouraged a phenomenon of internal multi-migrations within the Chinese continent, implying spatial and occupational mobilities, but also multiple belongings in a plurality of places and temporalities. Yet, the hukou policy, school culture and family background are still central to the socialization process of young migrants. Second generation rural-urban migrants still face the so-called “enrolment dilemma”, which has led some of them to turn to vocational education (Song, 2022). In recent years, the education of migrant children and children left behind has been widely discussed. In hegemonic labor regimes, young migrants repeatedly suffer from social disqualification, stress and violence at work and follow paths of geographical and occupational hyper-mobility. In situations of floating work, young Chinese migrants’ biographic pathways are structured around a plurality of urban and occupational experiences.

According to the 2021 Chinese Migrant Population Monitoring Survey, 292.51 million rural migrant workers are still moving between urban and rural areas, and a large number of young rural workers are flocking to cities, widening the gap with rural areas and hindering the implementation of rural revitalization. According to data from the National Bureau of Statistics, the number of rural migrant workers in 2020 was 5.17 million lower than in the previous year. This was the first time that negative growth was recorded, and the rural population is creating a new migration pattern based on dual rural-urban registration (Liu and Ling, 2023; Yi and Wang, 2023).

As Li Chunling (2021) has shown, young workers in China’s cities have been an important topic for recent sociological research and young migrant workers have inevitably become the most important for youth studies. Migratory movements span a multi-scalar space in which young people develop multi-mobilities between megalopolises, provincial and county cities under development that allow for pauses and stops along vast spatial trajectories (Song and Chen, 2023; Roulleau-Berger, 2013). While the social boundaries between big cities and rural areas in China are very clear, they have become increasingly pronounced between young migrant graduates and young low-skilled migrants in Chinese cities over the past decade (Li, 2017). The new socio-spatial and socio-economic divisions, coupled with the hierarchical diversification of professional and residential mobilities, have led to growing inequalities, widening social gaps, and generating tensions and conflicts.

Rural-urban migrant groups have hovered on the fringes of mainstream urban society, facing, situations of uncertainty about their individual and social identities. Ten years ago, the distinction between rural and urban Chinese youth was clear, but today the new generation of youth, who have grown up with the Internet do not identify themselves with the same labels. Young second-generation migrant workers see themselves as urban workers rather than rural migrants by adopting urban lifestyles. They seek a consumer lifestyle integrated into the city where they live (Zhou, 2021), hoping to escape traditional industry and shed the identity tags of their parents’ generation of migrant workers. But, for example, 48.10% of delivery workers feel that they are in a subordinate position in the city, and 41.80% do not feel integrated into the city (Huang, 2023; Xi and Wang, 2023).

Young Chinese migrants are increasingly involved in hypermobility, that is, in internal multiple modernities (Chang, 2020). They are born into a culture steeped in tradition, have transitioned into a modern, industrial era, and are struggling to survive in a post-modern, post-industrial era. In hypermobility they are confronted with multiple double binds, uncertainty and mobility in the acceleration and multiplicity of local and global spaces, temporalities, and diverse situations. The experience of hypermobility demonstrates the simultaneous contraction of space and time. Compacted temporalities produce multi-mobilities in China and in global space via transnational migrations. As high-order compressed modernity accelerates and removes restrictions in space and time, temporalities contract in intensified accelerations and restrictions are removed in urban and rural spaces at various levels. This in turn reinforces situations of economic, social, and moral insecurity.

These mobilities disrupt young migrants’ social interactions with their environment, and their identities are challenged in a plurality of spaces and temporalities across mainland China. Young people can lose awareness of spatial and temporal boundaries and enter into an endless struggle for self, a veritable injunction that causes them to forget the tangible resources at their disposal to realize their aspirations and life goals a reality.

The implementation of structural reform and the rural revitalization strategy has led a growing trend of migrant workers returning to their hometowns, but the number of returning migrant workers and their skill levels remain low (Shen and Chen, 2023). In China, compressed modernity is producing both strong contractions in time and space and their relaxation through “re-migrations” and resettlement in native regions. The development of the digital economy through e-commerce makes migrant workers more willing to return to their hometowns 老家 (laojia) by increasing their income levels, narrowing the income gap between urban and rural areas, and consolidating the social network of young migrant workers (Fa and Wang, 2023).

We can observe forced re-migration for less-skilled young Chinese migrants, displaced from the megalopolises, such as young mobile vendors and street vendors involved in the informal urban economy and invisible economic activities (Chen and Ao, 2023). But another very recent phenomenon is worth mentioning: the negotiated re-migration of young rural elites to their laojia (Ding, 2022; Gui and Mao, 2023). This re-migration movement seems to be produced by State and enterprises investment in the return of rural elites who want to be “a boss at home” after a complex process of socialization and accumulation of a plurality of rural and urban experiences: these young elite rural graduates were ordinary villagers who then left their villages only to return later. With the rapid development of industrialization and urbanization, many rural youths left to find work and circulated between the urban and rural worlds, transforming them in the process. Facing discrimination, exclusion and even expulsion from China’s big cities due to Chinese state’s rural economic revitalization policies, these young migrants are returning to their 老家 (laojia) to start their own businesses. According to Cui Yan, Zhang Bin and Zhao Chang Jie (2022), some rural youth, victims of urban segregation, feel excluded from Chinese urban society and return to their home region, where economic revitalization policies allow them to find work or start a business in the agricultural sector. Young elites become professional farmers equipped with scientific and technological knowledge, professional skills, and management capabilities, and thus distinguish themselves from traditional farmers and become leaders in the development of modern agriculture.

Primary socialization factors such as the knowledge of village society and the ability to act and interact in this space, establish favorable conditions for a successful return migration. The return is not perceived as a loss of face, but rather as the affirmation of a new identity that merges the urban and rural (Liang and Chen, 2022). While some young rural elites have been socialized in large cities by developing pathways as class defectors, they have not necessarily developed strong overconsumption strategies. Moreover, this re-migration is propelled by the growth of a rural cyberspace that is connected to an urban cyberspace. Consequently, these young elites are actively participating in transforming rural society through digital economies (Ding, 2022), as urban-rural and regional inequalities become more pronounced.

Another group of young rural migrants can no longer tolerate social control and repetitive manual labor in Chinese factories and enterprises, so they move back to the countryside. They gradually become part of a diversified subsistence system, mainly based on the agriculture, by engaging in subsistence activities in professional agricultural cooperatives and developing agricultural machinery services, special plantations, animal husbandry and odd jobs mainly based on kinship relations (Xiong and Chen, 2023). They then develop a family-based economy by reconnecting their biographical trajectories with their past.

3 Digital Economy and Digital Inequalities

Statistics show that the number of participants in the digital economy in 2020 was around 830 million, with around 84 million service providers (takeaway delivery services, couriers, online taxi drivers and chauffeurs …). In recent years, digital work has become highly diversified and has attracted many unemployed people due to its flexible and diverse forms of employment. According to the 2020 Hungry Blue Rider Research Report, the average age of young food delivery drivers was 31 and 80% were from rural areas. Meituan’s online delivery driver employment report during the covid-19 pandemic (in 2019 and 2020) showed that 257,000 of the takeaway delivery drivers employed on the Meituan platform were poor. Delivery drivers are mostly young people with low qualifications who adapt to flexible and dangerous working conditions, and this profession is only one stage in their careers (Cui, Zhang and Zhao, 2022).

The results of a survey conducted by Yan Huihui and Yang Xiaoyong (2022) show that takeaway delivery workers in Shanghai were predominantly male and had low levels of education overall. Almost 90% had a high school level education or less, and almost 80% worked full-time hours. In terms of working hours and work intensity, almost 90% of salespeople worked 28 days a month or more, and 87% worked more than 8 hours a day, with 38% working more than 10 hours. These young delivery workers are exposed to working conditions that are constantly physically and mentally stressful, their health at work is constantly threatened, and their employment rights are not protected. Nevertheless, these young people see themselves as emancipated from the constraints imposed by the traditional work system, living freely thanks to the innovation of network technology and the reality of escaping the traditional industry. These paths are breaking with the traditional trajectory of the rural migrant population, which in the past lived and developed in cities and are reshaping the careers and life trajectories of the new rural youth. (Huang, 2023).

According to a research report by the Chinese Academy of Labor and Social Security, the proportion of digital workers in counties and villages exceeds that of first and second-tier cities. The proportion of digital workers in rural areas has exceeded 60%; digital work has become an important way for rural youth to participate in the revitalization of the countryside (Xi and Wang, 2023; Xi and Wang, 2023). In digital work, young Chinese work in precarious statutes; professional relations are transformed; flexibility and mobility emerge as the main norms of action in constructing an enrichment economy (Boltanski and Esquerre, 2017), contributing to the emergence of a global capitalism divided into different branches. Young migrant workers, whose level of education is lower than that of urban residents, experience “digital poverty” and can be described as “digital refugees.” The effects of the “double divide” and “double poverty” are expressed in the marginalization of rural youth and the exclusion of young migrant workers from employment (Liu and Liu, 2022).

The digital economy creates a new type of work, where concrete work is simultaneously transformed into digital work by human capital and technology (Chen Long, 2022). The employment relationship between online workers and the platforms does not exist; the online worker and platform sign a cooperation agreement and a short-term labor assignment agreement. The income of online workers comes from their own activities and the income generated by their registered accounts, rather than from the fixed salary paid by the Internet platform; they do not benefit from social protection (Zou and Deng, 2022).

The development of the platform economy in China has radically transformed labor markets, creating a myriad of precarious “odd jobs” and new forms of digital entrepreneurship that are very different from traditional jobs, where labor laws and social benefits have disappeared. The shift from offline to online employment, the fragmentation of tasks and schedules, forced flexibility and diversification, and the proliferation of multiple jobs contribute to developing a global, networked economic capitalism (Li and Zhou, 2022). Compressed modernity stimulates the diversification of the digital economy, which is formed by principles of social differentiation and the production of cyber elites (Huws, 2003) and cyber middle classes (Tong, 2015). Young Chinese are joining the digital economy to become ‘”digital nomads,” or ict-based mobile workers, by setting up e-commerce platforms and online stores. Building on local cosmopolitanism, young Chinese are creating virtual jobs by using ict technology (computers, the Internet, email, social media) to develop new transnational economic territories.

Other digital workers are also emerging in the global space, such as transnational bloggers. In this issue, Liu Yuting’s article explores how transnational bloggers integrate emotion and commerce in China’s platform economy, using various strategies, including posting techniques, marketing strategies, and moral self-negotiation to establish positive emotional connections with Chinese followers; these moral economies contribute to the commodification of emotions, and shape new forms of digital and non-digital capitalism (Liu, 2023).

4 Compressed Individual and Anxiety

In a rapidly changing world, young Chinese are becoming increasingly conscious of the need to stay true to their authentic selves. They face an intense desocialization, or a contradiction between the values and identities inherited from the previous generation and the experiences of the new generation (Chauvel, 2016).

In an environment of collective anxiety (Li, 2019), young Chinese are fighting for themselves. They do this through a process of contradictory socialization, structured around exhausting identity work and managing the double bind between injunctions to take their place in society and difficulties in accessing spaces of strong legitimacy (Roulleau-Berger and Yan, 2017). Social and ethical systems that imprison the individual generate new types of disconnection and coerced obedience to the compressed modernity regime. Compressed modernity also generates collusion between different regimes of modernity and tradition in family life. In their paper in this issue, Ji Yingchun, Lin Zeyu, Liu Yue and Kang Rui, guided by the theory of mosaic familialism, show how egalitarian intergenerational relations—with declining patrilineal power and increasing matrilineal power—and traditional gender norms are embedded and in tension in the matrimonial lives of young Chinese (Ji, 2020). Thus, the compressed Individual in his/her subjectivity has to face to new situations of double bind and to deal with the nature of traditional arranged marriage and a modern marriage based on romantic love.

Chinese society then continued to stratify middle classes were created and fragmented, and a new underclass emerged. New inequalities were then created between socially different groups of young people. Chinese youth born after 1980 did not face the same social challenges as their parents’ generation, because of China’s rapid development and growth. However, they still cope with a context of financial, environmental, social and moral insecurity. In the process of individuation in Chinese society, they have internalized the norms of flexibility and mobility, as well as the expectations surrounding the cult of excellence, which generate the exhaustion of being themselves (Ehrenberg, 2010). Chinese young people aim to develop their careers by means of professional, social, and geographical mobility. They build upon their biographical bifurcations to move forward. The least academically qualified young migrants run the risk of not being able to secure a place in Chinese society, while the most academically qualified often only have access jobs with poor content in terms of professional socialization.

The quest for recognition and happiness becomes a key element in the production of emotional capitalism (Roulleau-Berger and Su, 2022). Young Chinese graduates with ambitions to “succeed” are blind to the commodification of their aspirations to become “heroes” in Chinese society. The sphere of capitalist consumption is pervasive in China, transforming and commodifying their feelings and emotional states into “emodities” (Illouz, 2019). They do this, on the one hand, to conform to a heroic role, and on the other to participate in consumer culture. But fears arise from the impossibility of “being a hero,” of not being able to use their social, family and cultural heritage to become themselves in the future, and of not being able to take advantage of the networks forged in their previous socializations. These fears feed feelings of failure, disappointment, and disillusionment, which are then internalized. The ordeal of losing can quickly numb young Chinese, whose strong capacity to act and mobilize must first be used in social and economic competition.

Young Chinese build their identities out of a multiplicity of roles and affiliations linked to heterogeneous and compressed social and economic spaces. The more this multiplicity increases, the more the unity and continuity of the self is threatened, the more the registers of inequality multiply and the more obstacles are created for the individual to become someone. More broadly, we can consider that they live and move in a multidimensional space-time consisting of tradition, modernity and postmodernity The least qualified young people can be affiliated to multiple marginalized spaces (Liu and Ling, 2023).

The process of singularization involves the imperative of self-governance (Foucault, 1975) and the sense of social distinction (Bourdieu, 1979); situations of social inequality, inequality in education, inequality in employment, create differentiated forms of access to self-governance. According to Robert Castel (2001, p. 293-305), we can distinguish between “individuals by excess, who have acquired a surface, a place and assets, and who have self-ownership, and individuals by default, who are not covered by collective systems or are unable to join protective collectives, who have few resources and support, and who have less self-ownership.”

Uncertainty, which generates individual and collective anxiety, is imposed on everyone. However, each individual has unique coping and managing abilities. We can therefore classify compressed individuals into several groups based on their exposure to vulnerability or social disaffiliation. The various categories of young people in Chinese society strongly internalize the expectation to be themselves through a process of individuation and subjectivation, perpetually antagonized by double bind situations. Certain forms of individual and collective anxiety shape the workings of the objective and subjective identities of these young people, producing identity gaps that cause injury, trauma and mental anguish, sometimes leading to suicide. Furthermore, the attitudes of Chinese youth reveals a profound lack of social trust in institutions, which in turn increases collective anxiety in a global context of economic and health insecurity.

In Chinese society, where the cult of excellence is a key factor in the pursuit of studies, access to employment, housing and marriage, involution 内卷 (neijuan)—i.e. the imposition of self-improvement in a context of hyper-competition—has become a collective issue, and the compressed individual can have two faces: the suffering individual and the conquering individual appear as two facets of self-governance (Castel, 2001), revealing the uncertainties, indeterminacy and discomfort of social life. This phenomenon highlights the affirmation of the individuation process and the cult of singularity (Reckwitz, 2020) as a process of the new Chinese civilization, meaning that there are as many aspirations and opportunities for the individual as there are risks of failure. Freedom of choice and increased risk coexist (Elias, 1991).

5 Disalienation, Suspension and Mobilization

Among compressed young people, some of them develop identity strategies to disengage from highly compressive spaces and re-engage in weakly compressive spaces to maintain and reinforce their threatened, attacked selves. Hu Xiao Wu and Xiang Jiang Yu (2023) identify several identity strategies among various categories of young people who feel powerless to produce collective action and develop disalienation strategies based on:

  1. Refusing the work pace and pressure of the “996” (working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., 6 days a week);
  2. Urban mobility: many young people choose to move from large cities to small and medium-sized towns to sit civil service entrance exams. A growing number of young urban white-collar workers are choosing to leave the city and return to their hometowns due to the “rural revitalization development;”
  3. Transitioning from prestigious universities to lower-ranked universities for higher education;
  4. Avoiding popular, crowded Netflix-famous places to relatively isolated towns for tourism and recreation;
  5. Refusing to perform manual labor or dirty work.

Disalienation come in the form of what Xiang Biao (2020) has called suspension (xuanfu), which signifies a kind of return to the self, a reclaiming of the self in the context of compressed modernity, and which manifests itself in life changes and biographical bifurcations, but can also be expressed in wandering. Passive or active suspension of social aspirations can be observed among young Chinese artists, for example (Truong, 2023). Suspension provides a temporary escape from the systems that capture bodies and minds, and opens up horizons for reclaiming oneself in the context of societal constraints and the colonization of lived experience. They also reflect a rejection of wage subordination and forced work, and of aspirational capabilities (in terms of power, dignity and material resources) in subjective temporalities and professional and geographical mobility (Roulleau-Berger, 2013).

In opposition to the majority norms of Chinese state capitalism, and as a result of the weakening of their identities in trajectories marked by affects, negative emotions and a lack of recognition, young Chinese, confronted with situations of disillusionment and structural deskilling, want to practice tangping 躺平 or “lying flat,” by asserting a right to slowness and boredom—a critical strategy of neo-liberalism and generalized commodification—a disillusioned relationship to the world (Liu and Dong, 2021). The tangping movement in China produces critical thinking to create alternative communities. This raises the question of how the individual, compressed in a slow, controlled relationship with time, can reclaim and return to their self.

In their paper Tong Xin and Liu Jian examine the discourses and practices of “lying flat” (tangping) among Chinese youth and analyze their resistance to overwork and “involution” competition. They distinguish three types of “lying flat”(tangping): the first one is the fire mode of elite youth, which mostly represents the autonomy of middle-class youth, they are stuck in the workplace competition; the second is the mode of neet young people who cannot integrate high-demand post-industrial work mode, choose to stay at home “gnaw the old” (ken lao); the third is the “Sanhe God” (san he da shen) type of young day workers who are systematically excluded into the bottom society and practice “lying flat” in the way of “lying flat.”

Today some young migrant graduates resist the economy of arrogance. They are aware that the economic and political injunctions to become heroes in Chinese society are commodified. These young migrants distance themselves from employment and criticise the injunction to interiorize the norms of success and excellence. They no longer wish to prioritise their professional interests over their emotional lives in order to succeed, nor do they want to be overexposed in the work environment and participate in a consumerist culture. They do not choose to participate in the “industry of happiness”, which produces self-made men characterised by their emotional rationality.

Consequently, some young skilled migrants develop resistance strategies to counter compressed modernity by refusing the injunction to be heroes in emotional capitalism. Young skilled migrants are violently subjected to interindividual relationships based on competition and performance in order to gain access the government of self (Foucault, 1975). These active minorities move to heterotopic spaces in cities and rural areas which act as moral regions that experience a widening divide with those of compressed modernity. Today, minorities composed of young migrants, community-based activists, young artists and ecologists gather to develop strategies for identity affirmation and set up micro-organisations on a political, economic, cultural and artistic level in intermediate spaces; these spaces come to occupy places next to spaces created to produce discreet, liminal socializations that are built in non-institutional worlds, where meanings are built related to situations of economic and political fragility, and political skills related to the affirmation of democratic values (Roulleau-Berger, 1999; 2011). Young migrants gather here to produce “alternative” material and symbolic economies and draw the borders of spaces in which forms of mutual recognition develop.

In China, intermediate spaces can be defined as resistance spaces against compressed modernity in rural and urban worlds. Resistance here means that struggles for economic, social, and moral recognition and new societal projects are being formed and structured in which individual and collective societal commitments are redefined by creating distancing with what makes compressed modernity. These intermediate spaces also reveal the power of active minorities to act, and youth who claim a right to the city in both social and societal capacities. They can promote reconciliations between social identities and self-identities of individuals, create new arrangements between different vulnerable social groups and, in doing so, become spaces for reconciliation.

6 Young Chinese and Globalization

Chinese cities are progressively becoming more cosmopolitan, and the development of new ethnic borders can be observed in tandem with the establishment of transnational networks. Young Chinese entrepreneurs operate in large trade hubs for example in Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Yiwu and play a key role in the global circulation of goods and products toward regions such as Europe, Latin America, and Africa. Young Chinese are involved in global business. New local and international trade hubs are created by a diverse mix of young entrepreneurs and retail trade figures develop local and global urban markets. They exercise their exceptional ability to develop economic and social cooperation networks that link Chinese cities and connect them to international cities. Local and transnational markets are developing in Chinese cities; these are based on inter-ethnic relations between small and large retail traders, small and large young Chinese entrepreneurships, and other traders and entrepreneurs from Arab and African countries. For example, Yiwu, a global city in the province of Zhejiang, is one of the largest wholesale markets in the world. This is the departure point of the “new silk roads,” supplying small commodities to a large proportion of the global market. Yiwu, as other Chinese cities, appear to play a pivotal role in covert and overt economic globalization (Choplin and Pliez, 2018). This is indicative of the internationalization of labor division, the spatial reorganization of production, the restructuring of global industries and the informalization of work.

Compressed modernity also drives diversification of digital economies based on principles of social stratification, resulting in the production of cyber-elites and a cyber-proletariat (Huws, 2003) emerging in various locations. To illustrate, Béatrice Zani highlights how young Chinese migrant women move to Taiwan to develop e-commerce platforms with China, featuring a variety of small products on new virtual marketplaces utilising the WeChat platform. This e-commerce business, operated by Chinese migrant women in Taiwan, utilises a digital platform that foster interaction, emotional connections and novel social and commercial practices (Zani, 2022).

Young retail traders and Chinese entrepreneurs construct local cosmopolitanism in Chinese cities through interethnic relationships. These cities are connected to other cities across the world and produce intermediate globalization through international youth. Locality, commerciality and multiethnicity construct assemblages between polycentric economies (Zukin, Kasinitz and Chen, 2015) in international cities and hierarchically organized economies beyond the Nation-States, conjunctions between economic forms of unequal value. Consequently, a new map can be drawn, a map of new transversal anchor points for both economy and identity, points which are linked by more or less visible lines along which the more or less qualified young people circulate in the Chinese and international cities. The new young Chinese “elites” and traders within the international space in different cities actively contribute to local and global cosmopolitanisms (Roulleau-Berger, 2021).

Transnational spaces, bazaar economies and poor-to-poor markets can also come into contact in international cities, for example African cities. Since the beginning of 2000, millions of Chinese have moved to North Africa, to Africa, and more recently, their presence has not stopped growing in South Africa. Young Chinese migrants from rural and urban lower social classes, have massively left middle school and integrated the Chinese labor market, where they have rapidly experienced situations of social and economic disqualification. For example, in bazaars of Dakar Chinese merchants sell new clothes, belts, scarves, bags, bracelets, calculators, etc. in central districts (Bertoncello and Bredeloup, 2009). Thereby, they decided to try their chance towards the “African Dream,” thanks to familiar networks or social relations with entrepreneurs who had previously settled in Africa. In African cities, they integrate the sectors of activity where competitions, conflicts and urban accommodations between young Chinese migrant salesmen and young African sellers or craftsmen are less likely to occur. For instance, Cina Gueye (2020) has outstandingly shown how the transnational economic device based on street commerce and shoemaking in Dakar illustrates the dynamics of “bottom-up globalization.” A new relationship between poor-to-poor markets and a cosmopolitan merchant capitalism which has emerged in African cities from recent Chinese migrations. This shows how different sectors of economic activity are restructured through complex commercial transactions, which are concomitantly local and global. For example, we see how, inside a sub-regional space, Chinese salesmen have become the huger supplier for local street salesmen. The multiplication of Chinese commercial counters in the regional and sub-regional spaces illustrates the multipolarity of Chinese migration in the ‘Global South.’

In their article Yan Jun, Guo Xianju and Liu Yuzhao focus on an emerging group of young entrepreneurs in Africa with a stronger “entrepreneur-spirit” and demonstrate how they could develop a diversity of experiences and migratory careers in Africa. The migratory flows of the new “elites” and traders within the international space, as well as those of “discredited” populations, and the increasingly visible presence of young Chinese entrepreneurs in different countries actively contribute to what Saskia Sassen (2006; 2007) calls the proliferation of new arrangements and the destabilization of established institutional arrangements between territory, authority and rights, producing emerging territorialities and associations that are neither exclusively national nor exclusively global. The mobilities and movements of young Chinese, in all their complexity and diversity, shed light on local cosmopolitanisms and the hierarchized processes of globalization “from above, from “the middle”, and “from below” (Tarrius, 2000).

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1

The hukou system put in place in the 1950s meant an assigned place of residence, that is, no mobility is allowed without prior authorization from the local administration before the reform and opening up. Two hukou have been distinguished: a rural hukou and a non-rural hukou for urban residents. Rural hukou provide access to land and employment in rural areas and urban hukou guarantee access to social rights in housing, employment and education.

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