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Authors: Huang, Katherine
Advisors: Flaherty, Martin
Department: Woodrow Wilson School
Class Year: 2013
Abstract: Since China’s opening up in 1978, internal migration from rural villages to cities has accelerated on a scale unprecedented in history. Though China now boasts over 262 million migrant workers who are discriminated against under China’s household registration ( hukou) system and confront structural obstacles to advancing their interests, little has been done to examine workers’ relationship with the Chinese state. To assess how workers engage with state institutions, this thesis examines the ways in which migrant workers in Shanghai resolve disputes. Through an empirical study, this thesis shows that despite being disadvantaged, migrant workers turn to more formal modes of dispute resolution in the city compared to in the rural village. Migrant workers embrace formal systems far more reluctantly than existing theories would predict. Two sets of variables help explain workers’ ambivalence towards formal mechanisms. The first set of variables – (1) the absence of ghettoized communities; and (2) a weakened civil society apparatus – precludes the formation of informal alternatives to existing formal systems. Migrant workers’ unenthusiastic resort to formal systems, therefore, is a product of necessity, rather than choice. The second set of variables – migrant workers’ (1) lack of “legal consciousness”; (2) status as “one-shot actors” without legal experience; and, most of all, (3) suspicion towards China’s deeply flawed legal system – inhibits workers from using formal systems even when doing so is their only option. Nonetheless, migrant workers demonstrate an awareness of legal mechanisms that suggests they are open to using the law as a tool to gain leverage and voice in the city if the second set of inhibiting factors is overcome. In light of forced recourse to the state and an incipient understanding of legal structures, policies should remove barriers that impede migrant workers from utilizing formal systems for resolving disputes. Policies can increase workers’ use of formal systems by creating not only a climate of knowledge about legal rights, but also a climate of trust in which migrant workers feel safe “opting in” to formal means of recourse. This thesis concludes with near-term policy recommendations directed at individual and institutional actors in China and the United States. Recommendations are designed to promote migrant workers’ interests by enabling grassroots empowerment through increased legal education and legal exposure.
Extent: 134 pages
Access Restrictions: Walk-in Access. This thesis can only be viewed on computer terminals at the Mudd Manuscript Library.
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en_US
Appears in Collections:Woodrow Wilson School, 1929-2016

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