Personal Narratives and Labor Migration: A Retired Guojia Ganbu in Southeastern Guizhou

Chien Mei-Ling*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The mass domestic migration of laborers from rural to urban areas is one of the most visible and significant aspects of “the rise of China.” Examining personal experiences can help us to describe and understand this phenomenon. As Arthur Kleinman (2006) has observed, life histories and personal voices demonstrate how people live a moral life amidst uncertainty and danger, and how they interpret what really matters to them. While recounting retired guojia ganbu Deik Bok’s life history and narratives, I discuss and elaborate on one individual’s experience of uncertainty and morality through China’s vicissitudes from the 1950s through the 2010s. I argue that this person’s experiences tell an important story about minorities in China through the socialist and reform periods, and specifically about the shifts in economic decisions and subjectivities that accompanied the rise of labor mobility. This ethnography builds on my friendship with Deik Bok that began in 1997 and was maintained through the many years I conducted ethnographic studies in Hmub villages in the highlands of southeastern Guizhou. Deik Bok represents a lively and vivid social actor of a particular time and place participating in China’s labor migration and social transformation since the 1950s, and his story provides a nuanced view of the transformation of China’s minority areas.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-22
Number of pages20
JournalSoutheast Asian Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022


  • Guizhou
  • Hmub
  • Southwest China
  • ethnic minority
  • labor migration
  • narratives


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