Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
China Initiative

Eli Friedman ─ The Urbanization of People: The Politics of Development, Labor Markets, and Schooling in the Chinese City

Friday, February 11, 2022

4:00pm – 5:30pm

McKinney Conference Room, 111 Thayer Street

The China Initiative hosts author Eli Friedman for a discussion of his upcoming book, The Urbanization of People: The Politics of Development, Labor Markets, and Schooling in the Chinese City. Moderated by Aaron Halegua, a Brown alum and lawyer, whose firm focuses on matters involving China, Chinese entities, or Chinese individuals. 

About the book:

Amid a vast influx of rural migrants into urban areas, China has allowed cities wide latitude in providing education and other social services. While millions of people have been welcomed into the megacities as a source of cheap labor, local governments have used various tools to limit their access to full citizenship.

The Urbanization of People reveals how cities in China have granted public goods to the privileged while condemning poor and working-class migrants to insecurity, constant mobility, and degraded educational opportunities. Using the school as a lens on urban life, Eli Friedman investigates how the state manages flows of people into the city. He demonstrates that urban governments are providing quality public education to those who need it least: school admissions for nonlocals heavily favor families with high levels of economic and cultural capital. Those deemed not useful are left to enroll their children in precarious resource-starved private schools that sometimes are subjected to forced demolition. Over time, these populations are shunted away to smaller locales with inferior public services.

Based on extensive ethnographic research and hundreds of in-depth interviews, this interdisciplinary book details the policy framework that produces unequal outcomes as well as providing a fine-grained account of the life experiences of people drawn into the cities as workers but excluded as full citizens.

Eli Friedman is associate professor and chair of international and comparative labor at Cornell University's ILR School. He is the author of The Urbanization of People: The Politics of Development, Labor Markets, and Schooling in the Chinese City (2022) and Insurgency Trap: Labor Politics in Postsocialist China (2014).

Aaron Halegua is a lawyer specializing in labor law in the US and Chinese contexts. Mr. Halegua was recently recognized as "2021 Litigator of the Year" award from the Human Trafficking Legal Center after assisting over 2,400 Chinese construction workers trafficked to Saipan to recover $14 million in backpay. Mr. Halegua has an A.B. from Brown University in International Relations and J.D. from Harvard Law School; he is a research fellow at both NYU Law School’s Center for Labor and Employment Law and U.S.-Asia Law Institute.