Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
This past January I returned to Shanghai where I had studied abroad last spring. While there, I spent a little over a week conducting interviews as research for my honors SYE in Global Studies. My topic was originally the changing roles and status of female migrants to Shanghai, but as I continued work on my SYE I decided to broaden my focus on migration to Shanghai to include more than just the gendered aspects. Instead, I decided to interview both migrants and Shanghai natives-each from a variety of occupations and socioeconomic positions-with the aim of looking discursively at how migration is discussed in contemporary Shanghai. After conducting my interviews and completely preliminary analysis of them back on campus, I have further narrowed my subject to the changing meanings of migration and of being a native or outsider in 21st century Shanghai.
The interviews were conducted entirely in Chinese, with my research assistant Huang Bei Bei running the interview and me pitching in occasionally with follow up or clarifying questions. In total we conducted 25 interviews, most of which were arranged by Huang Bei Bei before I arrived in Shanghai. With the exception of several interviews which were conducted in various downtown districts, the rest of the interviews happened in Shanghai's Minhang district, in or around the southern campus of East China Normal University where Huang Bei Bei is a graduate student. We attempted to keep-and were mostly successful in doings so-our sample roughly divided between both Shanghai natives and migrants from other provinces, as well as between males and females. We interviewed people from a wide swath of occupations including domestic workers, hourly paid workers, a small business owners, students, professors and librarians. Because we ended up finished the interviews early, I also had a chance to visit the Shanghai urban planning museum to see how migration was discussed in the exhibits there.
One of the most salient results of the trip and my interviews was how the category of native/outsider-and its relationship with migration-is far from black and white in Shanghai. Some of our interlocutors who had Shanghai hukou (household registration) were the children of immigrants from other provinces; one Shanghai hukou-holder was even an immigrant himself. On the other hand, some of the migrants we interviewed had lived in Shanghai for over ten years! Taken as a whole, the interviews made it very apparent that there is no monolithic Shanghai identity and that Shanghai culture and citizenship are interpreted, negotiated, and reconstituted in many different ways by those who live in Shanghai as natives or migrants.
Overall, I was blown away by how smoothly this trip went and how much I learned from my interviews. It is an incredible opportunity for undergraduates to be able to fly to the opposite side of the planet and conduct original research in another language. As such, I am incredibly grateful to Mr. Paul Gilbert and Mrs. Patricia Romeo-Gilbert as well as the University and CIIS for such an opportunity. I think the success of the trip was largely a result of my familiarity with Shanghai and my contacts in the city. One of my professors from last spring, Dr. Jiang Jin, was very gracious in asking her graduate students if any would be interested in serving as my research assistant. Huang Bei Bei, who accepted the position, has provided me with more help than I can ever adequately thank her for. My friends Ling Yiyun and Shao Zhe were also very willing to take time during their busy finals week to help me with my research. Apart from being able to rely on these people, my knowledge of Shanghai's public transportation system and basic language proficiency was also very helpful in keeping the trip stress-free.
For those who are further interested in my research, I will be presenting my final results and paper in late April, and would welcome being contacted for more information on the presentation or any other questions about my research.