Journal Article

Labor Transplant: "Point-to-Point" Transnational Labor Migration in East Asia

Published 1 January 2012 / By Biao Xiang

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The increasing labour migration from China to other Asian countries since the late 1980s is often attributed to the ascendance of the free market that has driven China’s internal transformation as well as Asian regionalization. The actual process of labour migration is, however, tightly constrained. Migrants are extracted from their hometowns and inserted in a foreign workplace with great precision, and they are obliged to return home once the job contract expires. The movement thus assumes the form of a “labour transplant.” Unlike project-based labour deployment that is collectively organized, labour transplant is individualized, and it seeks to follow, monitor, and control particular individuals’ specific journeys. This mode of migration emerged in response to the structural contradiction between the upward concentration of capital and downward outsourcing of labour management in the international economy and the related tension between the fragmentation of labour management and the continuing centralized regulation of migration. The central players in labour transplant are multiple intermediaries in China and the receiving countries, including public institutions, commercial recruitment companies and individual go-betweens, who collaborate with each other transnationally.

Xiang, B. (2012) 'Labor Transplant: "Point-to-Point" Transnational Labor Migration in East Asia', South Atlantic Quarterly, 111(4): 721-739