In search of "the cup of tea" : intersections of migration, gender, and marriage in transitional China
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Widely considered the world’s largest migration, the ongoing rural-to-urban migration in China is unprecedented in terms of scale and impact. Millions of Chinese peasants flood to cities in waves to try their fortune. Among them, dagongmei, literally translated as “working sisters,” who are single, young, and undereducated rural women working in cities, are believed to be one of the most marginalized communities. Their segregation and discrimination in the labor market has been well documented. As a major life event, their marriages have also received academic attention, but the marriage of dagongmei in current literature is generally considered a means towards achieving social advancement, often terminating their migratory trajectory. Few studies address the question of how physical mobility and economic independence alter the social relations of dagongmei in their pursuit of dating and potential spouses across the rural-urban divide. The separations of dagongmei from patriarchal families empower them, but their legally classified rural citizenship and their lack of cultural and social capital constrain their aspirations. To closely examine how individual agency interacts with familial control and societal constraints, I conduct in-depth interviews with dagongmei, applying feminist standpoint theory, to hear their experiences concerning the social processes of mate selection. By situating marriage as a dynamic decision-making process, I identify three subgroups of women: independent seekers, resigned negotiators, and tradition reformers. My overall conclusion is that young rural women are empowered by their migration to pursue major life goals such as marriage, but traditional gender ideology still operates to confine their roles as daughters and wives in a transitional society with competing capitalist and socialist characteristics.