Bordering Shanghai: China's hukou system and processes of urban bordering

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24 Citations (Scopus)


As members of history's largest rural-urban migration, the migrants who make up a great portion of urban China's low-wage labor force and burgeoning population face unique challenges. Although the trajectories of their movements do not cross international boundaries, most are legally prevented from ever gaining full legal status in their destinations, based on the status they hold within China's hukou system of household registration. This system parallels national citizenship policies in important ways, providing an alternative to standard understandings of how the legal boundaries around communities are drawn. However, empirical work bringing the hukou system into relation with theoretical developments in (international) migration studies is scarce. Based on a series of qualitative interviews conducted in Shanghai and rural Anhui province, this article argues that the structure and effects of the hukou system demonstrate clearly that the boundaries of national territory cannot be considered as the exclusive site from which bordering processes emanate. Bridging the gap between scholarship of Chinese migration and international boundary-making, I position this argument as an extension of the recent trend in border studies to understand bordering processes as taking place beyond the territorial boundaries of the nation state.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)93-102
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Bordering
  • China
  • Hukou
  • Internal migration
  • Shanghai
  • Urban citizenship


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