The Leaving of Anhui: The Southward Journey Towards the Knowledges Class

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Translocal China: Linkages, Identities and the Re-imagining of Space, 2006, 1, pp. 238 - 261
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Popular narratives of mobility, if and when constructed in reference to Anhui, are usually framed within a discourse of rural poverty and economic hardship, and as such, tend to mobilise the trope of history. In fact, the mere mention ofAnhui in China immediately conjures up, in most people's minds, the image of the domestic maid. As early as the 1960s and 1970s, Anhui, a largely rural province in eastern China, became the source ofa seemingly endless supply of maids for middle class families in more prosperous regions such as Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Shanghai, and Beijing. This phenomenon therefore represents a particular form of gendered mobilityin whichrural, poor, andilliterate womenfrom northern provinces travel to large cities like Beijing to perform domestic servitude. My preliminary research has found that the "Anhui maid" is seen as a metaphor for the gendered, unequal, and uneven relationship between Anhui and developed places such as Shanghai and Beijing (Sun 2005). Mobile, plentiful, and available at any time, she also embodies the enduring potency of such a metaphor. The Anhui maid is a national brand name, a product, whose cachet, authenticity, and desirability are made possible not in spite of, but precisely because of, the uniqueness of Anhui as a poor, backward, and un-modern place. In this sense, the association ofAnhui with poverty operates as both a metaphor-Anhui is like a maid-and metonym-the maid stands for Anhui.
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