Living on the Edge: Precarious Livelihoods in Pre-war Beijing

Dr Marjorie Dryburgh, the University of Sheffield

22.Oct.2009 09.00 - 10.00
G40, Baines Wing - Leeds


This paper will consider the landscape of poverty in pre-war Beijing and the resources and strategies available to the urban poor as they worked to navigate challenges to precarious livelihoods. Prompted by the relative invisibility of poorer city people in much writing on Chinese cities, it will draw on the existing literature on livelihood, and on communications between the urban poor and the city authorities held in the archives of the Beijing Social Affairs Bureau and municipal welfare institutes. It aims thereby to extend our understanding of patterns of poverty and the extent to which these revealed downward social mobility rather than entrenched deprivation; the shocks and trends that made individuals or families economically vulnerable, and the extent to which these were locally specific; the deployment of intangible assets such as kinship, social networks and claims on the local state to meet crises and mitigate the effects of poverty; and the extent to which official responses to urban poverty shared the disciplinary orientations shown in other social policies such as public health and the management of distinct out-groups such as beggars.


Dr Marjorie Dryburgh is Lecturer in Modern Chinese Studies at the University of Sheffield. She is the author of North China and Japanese Expansion: Regional Power and the National Interest (RoutledgeCurzon: 2000) and other work on regional politics, and is currently working on a social history of north China during the same period.

This seminar is part of the World Universities Network Contemporary China Center Virtual Seminars programme. This year’s series will focus on social development and political reform from economic, ethnic and ecological perspectives with a focus on issues of fairness and equality. The series allows audiences around the world to hear from leading scholars in Contemporary China studies and to engage in dialogue with one another across geographic boundaries. Each seminar includes an interactive question and answer session across all sites.

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