Agents Remolded: Everyday Practices of Socialistic Workers in Maoist China

Conference: AAS-in-Asia2020 (AAS-in-Asia2020)
Title: Agents Remolded: Everyday Practices of Socialistic Workers in Maoist China
Stream: History
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Sanjiao Tang, University of Auckland, New Zealand (organizer, presenter)
Lan Wei, Fudan University, China (presenter)
Zi Chen, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom (presenter)
Shiho Matsumura, Hokkaido University, Japan (discussant, chair)


This panel discusses the everyday life under the interaction between the socialistic workers and the state mechanism in Maoist China. The first presenter explores how the identities of the porcelain potters were transformed from “backward” craftsmen to “advanced” socialistic workers during the social transformation in the 1950s. Based on ethnographic data, this study examines the historical transformation of a potter’s life within the context of the interaction between the macro-historical background and contemporary local society. From the bottom-up and microcosmic perspective, the second presenter discusses the individual experiences of Sanxian (Third-Frontier) workers in Sichuan during the collective era. From the mid-1960s, plenty of workers migrated from coastal areas to hinterland, devoting to the Sanxian Movement. They formed an impressive immigrant group, while individuals’ migration was strictly limited by the regime at that time. This research contributes to the exploration on the life of ordinary workers under the effect of the politicized circumstance. The third presenter conducts a case study through 922 private letters, written from 1972 by a worker couple. These letters show the transformation of their thought connected with personal experiences, in which they tried to operate their social network (guanxi) for migrating back to Shanghai. She indicates that the ultimate goal of the young people—the happiness of family life—had not been “reformed” by a series of social movements. Instead, their agony and the pessimism to politics were mainly caused by the predicament of accomplishing this ultimate goal.