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Factory. Floating, China’s Migrant Population

Part 2 Project 2013
Edward Goulty
Sheffield Hallam University, UK
As China has opened up it has seen a massive growth in rural to urban migration, the result of relaxed movement restrictions and huge disparity of growth. Migrants travel from poorer less developed provinces to find work on the rapidly developing east coast. In the cities migrants still retain their rural registration and thus have limited entitlements, they lack access to services in the city and only have short term leave to remain before they are forced to return to the countryside.

Bureaucratic and social barriers restrict migrants from gaining stable formal employment in the city thus restrict their earning potential which hovers between that of the rural and urban. Migrant workers have become known as China’s floating population, at once neither farmers nor urban workers. Large migrant populations now exist across China as people seek work, economic prosperity and social mobility, it is estimated that in 2011 there were over 230 million migrants workers in China.


‘Factory’ is a proposed series of interventions by Migrant Village Framework a proposed live projects unit at Tsinghua University concerned with improving the livelihoods of migrant workers in Beijing.

Zhejiangcun in Beijing is a large migrant village with a history of clothing manufacture and wholesale, once on the periphery the village has now been swallowed up by the city and faces continuous threat of clearance for residential and commercial development.

Spread across the remaining migrant village, ‘Factory’ provides spaces for integrated production, learning and social change. A dispersed yet linked production line ‘Factory’ integrates fashion designers, students, migrant textile workers and migrant communities across Beijing through the sourcing of materials, skills and eventual manufacture of recycled clothing. Learning spaces across ‘Factory’ provide skills associated with the local textile businesses enabling access to work and social mobility, and blurring the boundary between production and learning. Social change is nurtured across ‘Factory’ from informal discussion to the formal establishment of a Migrant Worker Council.

Edward Goulty

Prof Sam Vardy
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