ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Migration and China’s ‘Economic Miracle’ in Northern Girls

By telling the story of vulnerable migrant workers, Sheng Keyi’s novel Northern Girls challenges the mainstream narratives of China’s economic growth.

China’s rapid economic growth has often been referred to as an “economic miracle.” However, the bright and glossy picture conceals a dark reality, which is the subject of Sheng Keyi’s coming-of-age novel Northern Girls (2004). Northern Girls depicts the financial, legal, emotional and sexual exploitation that migrant workers suffer. These migrant workers belong to a new stratum of society known as the “floating population” that came into existence following the implementation of the reform and opening-up policy in the 1980s. With factories being set up in special economic zones (SEZ) such as Shenzhen, rural residents in China began migrating to cities in search of work. Sheng shows the human side to this phenomenon of migration in her novel. Northern Girls is a raunchy, provocative yet harrowing account of the lives of migrant workers.

These migrant workers, who are in the millions, fuel the economic growth of China but they are collateral damage in the process of “economic development.” They have been reduced to second-class citizens. They are sacrificial lambs in the process of reform and opening-up. The novel depicts structural violence in the form of the household registration system. Around 70% to 80% of the migrant women in Shenzhen face similar circumstances as Qian Xiaohong, the protagonist of the novel, did. Violence is inflicted upon the migrants under the pretext of policies such as the hukou system and one-child policy. It is treated as “normal,” and the violence derives legitimacy from its institutionalisation through various government policies. The hukou system discriminates against rural residents of China and results in “unequal life chances.” The problem is further compounded for women migrant workers because of the added layer of gender discrimination. Although each migrant worker has their own individual story, each and every one of them suffer similar patterns of hardship.

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Updated On : 14th Mar, 2023
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