Skip to main content Accessibility help

“Social” Money and Working-class Subjectivities: Digital Money and Migrant Labour in Shenzhen, China

  • Tom McDonald (a1)


Scholars of Chinese society have predominantly regarded the region's money to represent an unusually “social” artefact. The dramatic proliferation of “digital money” services within Chinese social media platforms in the last decade would seem to further confirm the social character of Chinese money. I present a comparison of the diverse views held by migrant factory workers in Shenzhen towards different digital payment platforms which, however, suggests that rather than digital money necessarily being more or less social, different platforms instead extend the possibilities of sociality in varying ways. I argue that acknowledging the production of such novel working-class subjectivities through digital money ought to be central to efforts to assess the potential of these technologies for addressing the social, institutional and economic exclusions faced by Chinese migrant labourers. This in turn can enrich our understanding of the emergence of a new “digital working-class” in China by revealing how such contemporary working-class subjectivities are shifting, contextual and processual in nature.

中国社会的研究者主要将货币视为一种不同寻常的 “社会” 产物,而过去十年来中国社交媒体平台上 “电子货币” 服务的急速增长似乎进一步证实了中国货币的社会性。通过比较深圳的农民工对不同电子支付平台的不同看法,本研究认为,与其说电子货币必然或多或少地具有社会性,不如说不同的电子支付平台以不同的方式扩展了社会性的范围。本研究认为,理解电子货币对这种特殊的工人阶级主体性的生产,对于评估这些技术在解决中国农民工所面临的社会、制度和经济排斥问题上的潜力,应当具有核心地位。通过揭示当代中国工人阶级主体性转变的背景和过程,本研究也会进一步丰富我们对于中国新的 “数字工人阶级” 的出现的理解。



Hide All
Bruckermann, Charlotte, and Feuchtwang, Stephan. 2016. The Anthropology of China: China as Ethnographic and Theoretical Critique. London: Imperial College Press.
Chau, Adam Yuet. 2008. “The sensorial production of the social.Ethnos 73(4), 485504.
Chu, Julie Y. 2010. Cosmologies of Credit: Transnational Mobility and the Politics of Destination in China. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
He, Huifeng. 2016. “Alipay feature raises debate over money and morals.” South China Morning Post, 29 November, Business, 3.
Kapron, Zennon, and Meertens, Michelle. 2017. “Social networks, e-commerce platforms, and the growth of digital payment ecosystems in China: what it means for other countries,”
Madianou, Mirca, and Miller, Daniel. 2013. “Polymedia: towards a new theory of digital media in interpersonal communication.International Journal of Cultural Studies 16(2), 169187.
Martin, Emily. 2014. The Meaning of Money in China and the United States. Chicago: Hau Books.
Maurer, Bill. 2015. How Would You Like To Pay?: How Technology is Changing the Future of Money. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Mazur, Paul. 2017. “China forgets wallet.” The New York Times, 17 July, B1.
McDonald, Tom. 2019. “Strangership and social media: moral imaginaries of gendered strangers in rural China.American Anthropologist 121(1), 7688.
Niu, Qian. 2014. “iOS banshouji QQ jiaru QQ qianbao gongneng tengxun shou Q he Weixin liangtiao tui zuo yidong zhifu” (iOS version of QQ mobile adds QQ Wallet function. Tencent mobile Q and WeChat, doing mobile payments on both fronts),
Osburg, John. 2013. Anxious Wealth: Money and Morality among China's New Rich. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Peng, Yinni, and Choi, Susanne Y.P.. 2013. “Mobile phone use among migrant factory workers in south China: technologies of power and resistance.The China Quarterly 215, 553571.
Pink, Sarah, Horst, Heather A., Postill, John, Hjorth, Larissa, Lewis, Tania and Tacchi, Jo. 2016. Digital Ethnography: Principles and Practice. London: SAGE.
Pun, Ngai. 2016. Migrant Labor in China: Post-socialist Transformations. Cambridge: Polity.
Qiu, Jack Linchuan. 2009. Working-class Network Society: Communication Technology and the Information Have-less in Urban China. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Qiu, Jack Linchuan. 2018. “China's digital working class and circuits of labor.Communication and the Public 3(1), 518.
Qiu, Jack Linchuan, and Bu, Wei. 2013. “China ICT studies: a review of the field, 1989–2012.China Review 13(2), 123152.
Qiu, Jack Linchuan, Gregg, Melissa and Crawford, Kate. 2014. “Circuits of labour: a labour theory of the iPhone era.TripleC (Cognition, Communication, Co-Operation): Open Access Journal for a Global Sustainable Information Society 12(2), 564581.
Sassen, Saskia. 2012. “Interactions of the technical and the social.Information, Communication & Society 15(4), 455478.
Scott, Janet Lee. 2007. For Gods, Ghosts and Ancestors: The Chinese Tradition of Paper Offerings. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.
Simmel, Georg. 1978 [1900]. The Philosophy of Money (Bottomore, T. and Frisby, D. (trans.)). London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Stafford, Charles. 1995. The Roads of Chinese Childhood: Learning and Identification in Angang. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.
Stafford, Charles. 2000. “Chinese patriliny and the cycles of yang and laiwang.” In Carsten, Janet (ed.), Cultures of Relatedness: New Approaches to the Study of Kinship. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 3754.
Sun, Wanning. 2014. Subaltern China: Rural Migrants, Media, and Cultural Practices. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Tencent. 2015. “2015 annual report,”
Tu, Fangjing. 2016. “WeChat and civil society in China.Communication and the Public 1(3), 343350.
Wallis, Cara. 2013. Technomobility in China: Young Migrant Women and Mobile Phones. New York: NYU Press.
Wang, Jing. 2018. “Inclusion or expulsion: digital technologies and the new power relations in China's ‘internet finance’.Communication and the Public 3(1), 3445.
Wang, Xinyuan. 2016. Social Media in Industrial China. London: UCL Press.
Wang, Yang, and Mainwaring, Scott D.. 2008. “Human-currency interaction: learning from virtual currency use in China.” In Mary Czerwinski, Arnie Lund and Desney Tan (eds.), CHI '08 Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 2528. doi: 10.1145/1357054.1357059.
Watson, James L. 1988. “The structure of Chinese funeral rites: elementary forms, ritual sequence, and the primacy of performance.” In Watson, James L. and Rawski, Evelyn S. (eds.), Death Ritual in Late Imperial and Modern China. Berkley, CA: University of California Press, 274292.
Wolf, Arthur P. 1974. “Gods, ghosts and ancestors.” In Wolf, Arthur P. (ed.), Religion and Ritual in Chinese Society. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 131182.
Yan, Yunxiang. 1996. The Flow of Gifts: Reciprocity and Social Networks in a Chinese Village. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Yan, Yunxiang. 2005. “The individual and transformation of bridewealth in rural north China.The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 11(4), 637658.
Yang, Mayfair Mei-hui. 1994. Gifts, Favors, and Banquets: The Art of Social Relationships in China. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.


“Social” Money and Working-class Subjectivities: Digital Money and Migrant Labour in Shenzhen, China

  • Tom McDonald (a1)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed