Strangers in a Familiar City: Picun Migrant-worker Poets in the Urban Space of Beijing

  • Federico Picerni (Author)


Urbanisation and rural-urban labour mobility are two founding traits of China’s contemporary society and socio-economic model. The connection between the two and the peculiar social mobility control system still in force, which bars non-urban residents from accessing basic services in the city, creates a new form of social stratification between the “centre” and the “periphery” of urban society, as well as a new subject in the city – one not fully urban, nor still peasant, but remaining an outsider in the city. Migrant-worker communities have formed, one of the foremost being Beijing’s Picun urban village. In this paper, I analyse a corpus of poems published online in recent years by members of a literature group of migrant workers based in Picun. Reading them as a case of subjective representation of the social space of the city and the authors’ positioning in its web of social relations, and adopting a socio-literary approach, I particularly focus on the relation with the rural home, urban alienation and anomie, and the effort for symbolic recognition, locating this production in the larger spheres of contemporary migrant-worker literature and urban literature. By doing so, I demonstrate that such a literature challenges the coherence and uniformity of the city’s “text” (and identity), offering a multi-layer perspective of the socio-cultural production of urban space.


Beijing, Picun, migrant-workers, literature, poems, urban space