Maid In China
Media, Morality, and the Cultural Politics of Boundaries
By Wanning Sun
Routledge – 2008 – 206 pages
Maid in China is the first systematic, book-length investigation of internal rural migration in post-Mao China focused on the day-to-day production and consumption of popular media. Taking the rural maid in the urban home as its point of departure, the book weaves together three years of engaged ethnographic research in Beijing and Shanghai with critical analyses of a diverse array of popular media, and follows three lines of inquiry: media and cultural production, consumption practices, and everyday politics. It unravels some of the myriad ways in which the subaltern figure of the domestic worker comes to be inscribed with the cultural politics of boundaries that entrench a host of inequalities—between rich and poor, male and female, rural and urban.
Wanning Sun explores a number of paradoxes that the domestic worker lives out on a daily basis: her ubiquitous invisibility, her enduring transience, and her status as an intimate stranger. Collectively, these paradoxes afford her a unique window onto the spaces and practices of the modern Chinese city. This intimate stranger’s epistemological status makes her an unauthorized yet authoritative witness of urban residents’ social lives, offering a revealing lens through which to examine both the formation of new social relations in post-reform urban China, and the new social uses of space—both domestic and public—engendered by these relations.
' A thought-provoking read, this book is recommended for scholars focusing on contemporary China, cultural studies, media, labor, development and gender studies. It could be used in the classroom, particularly at the graduate level, as a fine example of the ethnographic exploration of the intersections of media, marginalization and cultural politics.' - Mei-Ling Ellerman, The Australian National University, The China Journal, No. 63
'Maid in China is much more than an ethnography of Chinese domestic workers and an analysis of media representations of maids in China. Sure to be of interest to a wide range of scholars of China and mass media, Sun’s book beautifully captures the complexity of the contemporary social and economic transformations taking place in the People’s Republic of China from the intimate and provocative angle of the maid and with an eye to the role of media.' - The China Quarterly, 200, December 2009, pp. 1093-1121
'This book is theoretically engaging and conceptually insightful. Combining theory and in-depth fieldwork, this book sheds light on the formation of the new middle class and working class and the new “moral economy of the modern Chinese city” in the rapid social transformations taking place in postsocialist China. This book should be welcomed by a wide array of scholars who have an interest in ethics, class, media, gender, and migration in China and elsewhere.' - TIANTIAN ZHENG, Anthropology, SUNY Cortland, New York, USA, China Information, 2009, 23
'This insightful book will benefit students in a range of fields: Chinese studies, migration, gender, and media. It will also appeal to those who study social and political roles of the middle class.' - Intersections, Issue 23, January 2010
'In Maid in China, Sun weaves personal narratives, media analysis, and cultural theory into a highly readable book. Her refusal to cast baomu as either victims or liberated subjects of “modernity” is refreshing, and her attention to urban residents complements her insights into the daily struggles of the maids in her study.' - International Journal of Communcation 3(2009)
1. Intimate stranger: An Introduction Part 1: Media production 2. Theater of Suzhi: Dramas of New Sociality on Post-Mao Television 3. Spectacles of Love: The Moral Economy of Compassionate Journalism Part 2: Consumption Practices 4. Morality or Money: The Gendered Ethics of Good Living 5. Latent Geography of the City: The Poetics of Inconspicuous Consumption Part 3: Everyday Politics 6. Continuum of Transgression: The Practicalities of Everyday Politics 7. The Art of "Making Do": The Cultural Practices of the Subaltern Spectator
Wanning Sun is Professor of Chinese media at University of Technology Sydney, Australia.