Gendering the New Generation of Chinese Workers in Vocational Schools

Project: Research project

Project Details


Serious scholarship points out that the declining influence of socialist discourse of gender equity has led to the emergence of neoliberal labour market values of human resources and a re-emergence of traditional patriarchal values, both of which have reshaped the gender division of labour and enhanced gender inequalities in post-reform China. In recent years, an increasing number of rural young people have entered the urban vocational education system. These girls and boys migrate to the cities to receive education and training with their urban counterparts before seeking employment in the manufacturing and service sectors. Unlike general academic schooling, vocational education is specifically geared towards entrance into the labour market, producing and reproducing “marketable subjects” for the use of factories and other types of companies. In this proposed study, we aim to look into the gendering process in both formal and informal curriculums of vocational schools. Our questions include: What are the new opportunities and difficulties the future generation of female and male workers face? How will the young women and young men respond to, negotiate with, or resist the new gender order in an increasingly liberated market?

The Chinese revolution promised women equality with men in all spheres of life by upholding the slogan “women hold up half of the sky” during the Mao era. While many of the promises have not been actualised, China’s women have indeed entered a new age, enjoying “liberation” in the sense of education, freedom of marriage, relative high employment rate, and improved social status in society in the course of socialist transformation. However, an abrupt change occurred in the socialist women’s movements when Deng’s reform era began. A new debate on the direction of women’s emancipation in China has been generated not only in academic circles but also in society at large. The nature of gender and sex, femininity and identity, the gender division of labour, and the roles of women in the spheres of production and social reproduction have been re-defined and fiercely debated. As controversial as other social issues, the gendering process of Chinese subjects in general, and working subjects in particular, has been transformed in a conflictive way. While we have observed a new trend of feminist studies on body, sex, femininity, beauty, and identity in production and consumption, few studies have paid attention to the gendering of education and its relation to work and employment, fundamental economic rights, and gender empowerment of the new generation of the working class in China. Our research aims to fill this gap.

Current gender relations in reformed China should have brought diverse effects on the occupational decisions and employment experiences of the young students in the vocational schools. Having ethnographic studies in vocational schools in three Chinese cities, we will explore the educational and employment tactics and practices adopted by young women and young men. Special attention will be paid to how the mainstream patriarchal discourses, the market value of gendered subjects and gendered employment and career aspirations shape the lived experiences and everyday practices of the younger generation of the reserve army of the working class. We will emphasise the centrality of gender in studying the institutional and ideological changes in post-socialist China and their impact on young people. Through exploring the learning, training, and internship experiences among students in vocational schools, we will be able to study the gender reproduction of the young working class, especially during their school-to-work transitions. In short, we understand the gendering process of the new generation of the working class as an on-going conflictual process in which structure, discourse, and subjectivity are all at play in the interplay of gender and class.
Effective start/end date1/01/1831/12/21

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities


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