The Struggle for Subsistence City-based Migrant Couples in Jing Yongming’s Fiction

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Shuang Liu


With China’s rapid modernization and urbanization in the 1980s, hundreds of millions of farmers have flocked from the countryside to the cities in search of jobs. They are internal migrant workers. Since rural-to-urban migrants are mainly young and middle-aged laborers, their ‘family’ in the cities is often limited to two adults living as a couple, with both partners working. This paper will focus on the literary representation of such couples, further discussing the urban survival of migrant workers and their complex relationship with the city.

By closely reading Jing’s two novellas: “Breathing Loudly (Dasheng huxi)” written in 2005, and “Leaving Beijing (Chujingji) ” written in 2016, this paper will explore the salient features of city-based migrant worker couples in Jing’s fictions. In doing so,this paper examines how these features shed light on migrant workers’ lives in urban spaces, including interactions with native city residents, as well as migrant workers’ perceptions of the urban social world. I argue that city-based couples in literature not only reflect migrant workers’ struggles for existence in the city, but also imply how migrant workers’ desire to seek a better life in the city is at best, to borrow Berlant’s term, a ‘cruel optimism.’ This fantasy of the ‘good’ life with economic gains, a place of one’s own, and social equality often proves to be unachievable.


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How to Cite
Liu, S. “The Struggle for Subsistence: City-Based Migrant Couples in Jing Yongming’s Fiction”. Literature and Modern China, vol. 3, no. 1, June 2024, doi:10.54591/VOHI4336.


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