The Chinese state is currently shifting from an export-centered growth
model to one focused on domestic infrastructure and urbanization. This
shift is changing the foundations of the economy. If China's comparative
advantage was previously its low-cost labor, then today its most-valued
commodity is land, the cornerstone of its recent and rapid urbanization.
My book, Beneath the China Boom (University of California Press 2020),
argues that rural-urban labor migration in China has drained labor and
capital investment away from rural regions, creating fiscal deficits from
which rural governments recover through land-based financing and infrastructural construction.
My new project tracks transnational flows of Chinese capital through overseas private investment and immigration. As Chinese production contracts and venues for profitable capital investment become scarce, private holders of Chinese capital overseas have gone in search of places to park their now “idle” capital. Idle capital creates regulatory voids that are variegated and contested: they can serve individuals interests in evading tax responsibilities or state interests in attracting low-cost capital.
I am currently conducting interviews with brokers at a transnational insurance agency in Queens Chinatown with primarily Chinese clients. There, life insurance policies are customized so that premiums are treated as investment principals and repaid to clients with dividends. As such, they have become a means of tax-free capital movement for transnational families: policies purchased for children pay dividends and act more as overseas annuities than insurance. Life insurance brokers, primarily women, act as much more than capital brokers: they act as social workers, helping families settle in destinations.
I also have a couple articles on the social process of rural-urban migration in China: how it affects household gender relations in villages and the careers of brokers who enable this migration by linking laborers to employers.
Chuang, Julia. 2016. Factory Girls After the Factory: Female Return Migrants in Rural China. Gender & Society Vol. 30 (3): 467-489.
Click here for a brief overview via the ASA Organizations, Occupations and Work blog.
Chuang, Julia. 2014. Chains of Debt: Labor Trafficking as a Career in China's Construction Industry. In Kimberly K. Hoang and Rhacel Parrenas (eds.), Human Trafficking Reconsidered: Rethinking the Problem, Envisioning New Solutions, pp. 58-68. New York: Open Society Institute.