Endurance, identity and temporality: ethnic labor market and labor process of Chinese migrant workers in France

DU Juan1

(1.Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales)

【Abstract】Workers in France enjoy strong legal protection for their rights, as well as developed organizational support. However, Chinese migrant workers suffer from adverse working conditions and extreme labor precariousness. However, they rarely turn to legal institutions for help. Nor do they organize themselves in unions. Instead, they choose to endure the exploitation. Based on an ethnographical study of Chinese migrant workers in Paris, this paper investigated the different factors which might influence their preference for resistance strategies. The author then discussed the labor process in the context of international migration. This paper began with an analysis of the typology of exploitation, and later proposed two possible explications for Chinese migrant workers’ preference. Finally, it explored the formation of the migrant worker subject.

【Keywords】 Chinese labor; exploitation typology; labor control; temporality; subjectivity;


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(Translated by DUAN yinhong)


    [1]. (1) France’s various policies on immigration are not consistent, but full of various contradictions. There are often differences between policies due to different ideas, logic and value orientations which they follow. Among them, the biggest differences are the immigration policy and social security policy. The former takes economic considerations and emphasizes the sovereignty of the country at the political level, while the latter emphasizes universal human rights. [^Back]

    [2]. (2) Research and discussion on these aspects are numerous and will not be repeated here. [^Back]

    [3]. (3) It is customary in French academia to refer to all people who have migrated from countries or regions outside their country as immigrants, and Chinese students or dispatched people are considered to be part of Chinese immigration. The term Chinese immigrants in this paper takes its narrower meaning, that is, a large group of Chinese immigrants who have migrated to France for political or economic purposes, mainly laborers. [^Back]

    [4]. (4) In this classification system, the situation of large-scale Fujian immigrants in France after 2000 is complicated and difficult to generalize. From the perspective of time, Fujian immigrants belong to the newly emerged immigrants. However, from the perspective of immigration patterns, Fujian immigrants can be divided into two categories. Some Fujian immigrants consider France as a transit country. The destination of them is the United Kingdom opposite the English Channel, and this phenomenon is seldom among other Chinese immigrants. Another part of Fujian immigrants have settled in the transit country and set up a business in France or fetched the wife and children who stayed in the country through family reunion to France, becoming family immigrants similar to Wenzhou immigrants. [^Back]

    [5]. (5) Regarding the rights of illegal immigrants as workers, some trade union organizations have given a clear explanation and publicity (part of the promotional materials can be found at http://www.cnt-f.org/sam/IMG/pdf/4pages_sans-Papierscoul. pdf), but many illegal immigrants remain completely unaware of their legal rights. [^Back]

    [6]. (6) The term position has its methodological significance, emphasizing the relationship of the position of researcher in the field survey. This position is not given by the researcher, nor is it completely given by the interviewee. It is a social role for outsiders that the two sides negotiate in a specific social situation. [^Back]

    [7]. (7) The statistical data come from the French National Institute of Statistics and Economics (INSEE). The national census is the responsibility of this official agency. [^Back]

    [8]. (8) According to the internal data Social Diagnostic Report, the vast majority of Chinese immigrants come from the coastal city of Wenzhou in Zhejiang Province. This report is a social diagnosis submitted in 2008 for urban renewal of the district. The report uses social survey methods and employs Chinese translators to facilitate communication with Asian families, so the data are credible. However, considering that the survey has been more than ten years, coupled with the phenomenon of “dapu” (搭铺) that is commonly found in Chinese housing (a type of living, see Du, 2014 for details), the percentage of Chinese actually living in Block G should be high. According to the number of names on the mailbox, the author roughly estimates that the proportion is 1/31/2. [^Back]

    [9]. (9) France implements the minimum wage system, referred to as SMIC for short, and is readjusted on January 1 of each year according to the purchasing power and wage levels of the previous year. In 2017, the minimum wage (gross) was EUR 9.76 per hour. Based on the legal working hours of 35 hours per week, the gross salary was EUR 1480 per month and the net salary was EUR 1153. The monthly wages of the Chinese immigrants interviewed by the author are mostly between EUR 1100–1200. [^Back]

    [10]. (10) The main user groups of the forum are Chinese in Europe, of which the Chinese groups in France, Italy and Spain are the most active (http://faguo.huarenjie.com/). [^Back]

    [11]. (11) Of course, there is a methodological risk in researching disputes on the Internet. For example, how do we prove that the netizens who speak from the boss’s standpoint are really the boss in real life? How do we verify their social identity? The author believes that the reasons for the exclusion of the Internet water army are as follows. (1) The size of the French Chinese and Economic strength cannot support a specialized Internet water army, and this demand cannot be marketized. (2) The author also referred to information from various channels when conducting online collections on the forum. For example, there is a personal space behind each user ID of the forum. When people click the past, they can view the other party’s activities, diaries, and photos, and see that nearly all users were not newly registered at that moment. And many users’ traces of activities can be seen, such as other posting records, as well as diaries and photos. In addition, those users’ responses are not repetitive but very targeted. In response to the main post or the reply from a certain user, a user can express his or her own opinions and ideas, and the possibility of the Internet water army can be excluded from content. (3) After reading all the replies, the author summarized several discussion directions. Here, the author does not intend to discuss which opinions are dominant, but instead pays attention to the different value logics of these kinds of opinions, that is, how netizens support their opinions. [^Back]

    [12]. (12) The decoration industry is mainly composed of two major economic activities. One is interior decoration, which includes internal renovation of shops, as well as maintenance and renovation of living spaces. The other is the provision of materials for interior decoration. Due to the large number of Chinese businessmen operating in the building materials sector, in 2010 they established an association, namely, the French-Chinese Construction Industry Federation, in the 93 provinces near Paris (the province of Seine-Saint-Denis where this field is located). [^Back]

    [13]. (13) See statistics from the French National Institute of Statistics and Economics (INSEE) in 2006. The percentage of Chinese engaged in handicrafts, businessmen and bosses in France is second only to Brazilians (17%) and Turks (15%), and it is also higher than the average immigration (10%). [^Back]

    [14]. (14) According to French law, business owners who hire illegal immigrant workers will face five years in prison and a fine of EURO 15,000 for per employed illegal worker (Article 8256, Clause 2 of the Labor Law). [^Back]

    [15]. (15) Legalization here specifically refers to getting a residence permit, obtaining a legal identity, and obtaining a work permit. [^Back]

    [16]. (16) This point was mentioned in research of Burawoy (2008/1979) and Shen (Shen, 2008), and paying salaries on time is a prerequisite for hurrying at one’s work or relationship hegemony to proceed smoothly. [^Back]

    [17]. (17) The controversial topic is entitled Trial work, learning to work, not paying, that is fraud, exploitation, regardless of identity (http://www.huarenjie.com/thread-3978821-1-1.html). The quoted reply is the 66th one. Some of the formatting issues in this part come from the original text. [^Back]

    [18]. (18) The original text of the reply from the second floor was: “The poster can notify the employer. If he really wants to bully people, then the poster will . . . go to the court and sue him on hiring illegal workers without paying them. Under this situation, it is very easy to sue successfully. Then, the boss will pay the price.” [^Back]

    [19]. (19) The term ethnic group is used here instead of nationality because the concept of ethnic group is more accurate than the concept of nationality in the context of cross-border mobility, covering a broader scope than nationality. Including the second generation of immigrants is an identification based on culture and immigration history. [^Back]


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This Article


CN: 11-1100/C

Vol 34, No. 04, Pages 97-121+244

July 2019


Article Outline


  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 Field entry and methods
  • 3 Chinese labor market and its characteristics
  • 4 The typology of exploitation
  • 5 Workers’ subjectivity, identity, and labor control mechanisms
  • 6 Conclusion: possibility of resistance
  • Footnote