Intersectionality and power in inter-hukou families in China

Ching Wu Lake LUI

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers


Does intermarriage between groups mean greater equality? This article uses an intersectional approach to investigate how inequalities of gender, class, and rural/urban status and power are sustained or reworked in marriages formed between partners with different “citizenship statuses” in the Chinese context. Though the term “citizenship status” is most commonly used to describe the legal status of crossborder migrants, I deploy the concept in relation to hukou, China’s household registration status, which shapes the basic social rights of rural-to-urban migrants within China. My analysis compares among various gender, rural/urban, and class configurations in marriages using data from 26 in-depth interviews as well as participant observation. I find that variations in marital power dynamics work through the intersection of government policies and patriarchal structure. The rural wives of urban men are treated by their husband’s family as “unpaid reproductive workers.” Conversely, urban spouses in poor rural families are seen as knowledgeable and treated with high regard. The rural husbands of urban women behaved like nostalgic sojourners, always hoping to return to their rural home. I also show that the standard rural-urban power dynamic (where urban status is regarded as powerful) can be reversed when the rural partner comes from a higher socioeconomic status than the urban partner. Finally, I argue that members of even the most oppressed group – rural migrant wives – have creative strategies to resist their subjugation within the family by playing by urban rules, enacting a two-faced filial piety, and creating gender alliances.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015


Lui, L. C.-w. (2015, December). Intersectionality and power in inter-hukou families in China. Paper presented at the Gender and change: Transcending Boundaries International Conference 2015, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, China.


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