Module: Physical & Social Mobility: Comparing Labor Standards across Borders

By Setsuko Matsuzawa. Module offered in Sociology 219 “Globalization and Contemporary Chinese Society” Module Duration: Two weeks (two 80 minute classes per week)

China currently has about 300 million migrant workers who migrate from their rural homes to urban cities.  During the two weeks of class, students will explore: what it is like to be a migrant worker in China; why people become migrant workers; and what kinds of challenges they face and why.  The activities require the students to understand human aspects of the backbone of China’s economic development.  Students will read articles on: 1) the Hukou system and 2) labor standards in factories.  Students will also watch two documentaries: 1) Last Train Home and 2) Decent Factory.  They are expected to complete a film work sheet for the first film and to write a memo on the global production network based on the second film.

Learning Goals and Objectives

Goals: To be able to understand the link between physical and social mobility.
The specific learning objectives for this unit are as follows:

  • Students will compare and contrast purposes and consequences of China’s Hukou system (Household registration) during the pre-reform (before 1978) and post-reform (after 1978) eras.
  • Students will assess a few Hukou reform policies and discuss solutions.
  • Students will write a memo on the global production network, including the goals of major players (Nokia, German and Chinese management staff in a German/Chinese factory in China, and factory workers).
  • Students will make connections between themselves as consumers and Chinese factory workers as producers/laborers.

Schedule, Readings and Expectations  

Week 1


Labor, Migration, and the Hukou System
-In-Class Film: “Last Train Home” (87 minutes)
Hand out Film WorkSheet
-Reading: Wang, Fei Lei. “Conflict, Resistance and the Transformation of the Hukou System” in Chinese Society: Change Conflict and Resistance. Edited by Elizabeth J Perry and Mark Selden. (3rd edition), Routledge (2010) pages 80-100.
-Students should come to class prepared to discuss the above reading.
1.2 Labor, Migration, and the Hukou System – Cont.
Discussion and Analysis of the Film and the reading
-Film Work Sheet Due in Class. Students should come to class having completed their film work sheets for “the Last Train Home.”
Week 2


Global Production Networks and Chinese Factory Workers
-In-Class Film: “A Decent Factory” (79 minutes)
-Hand out Assignment Memo
-Reading: Reading: Bartley, Tim and Lu Zhang, China and Global Labor Standards: Making Sense of Factory Certification(2013). Forthcoming in China and Global Governance: The Dragon’s Learning Curve, ed. by Scott Kennedy. Routledge, 2013.
Students should come to class having read the reading before class. Discussions question are in activity four of this document.


 Global Production Networks and Chinese Factory Workers –Cont.
Discussion and Analysis of the Film and the reading
-Written memo on Global Production Networks Due in Class
-Students should come to class having prepared a written memo that summarizes the agendas of major players in the global production network.

I will evaluate each student’s work based on their assignments (film worksheet and memo), quizzes, and a free writing exercise.  Did they complete the assignments and contributed to small group discussions?  Did they answer the quiz accurately?  Did their free writing demonstrate an understanding of the connections between physical and social mobility?  I will also evaluate each student’s participation based on their involvements in activities.  How often did they contribute to class discussions?  Did their comments reflect the readings and films?