Collection and Speculation: Life Stories of Market Traders in Mega City Shanghai (completed)

Rumin Luo

In this project I am especially interested in betting and notions of good luck in the mega city Shanghai. On the one hand, I want to explore how speculation is shaped in the context of policy and social changes in late socialist China. I will do this by participant observation in a Stamp-Card-Coin speculative market and by elaborating the life stories of winners in the market. Speculation in Chinese paper money (banknotes) is a symbol of Chinese culture, which is in favor of luck (number) and treasure (as a gift). This informal economy is created between the state and local actors, in which traders activate their different local contacts to earn massive profits. Nevertheless, speculation in ancient and contemporary coins is more a production of the new self-knowledge and common cultural heritage, which emerged or was revived from Chinese cultural products rooted in local and regional histories.

On the other hand, I try to look at how the migrant traders negotiate in the face of risk and uncertainty, hope and despair. They are not formally registered by the Hukou system in the mega city and so rarely get access to the urban education and welfare systems available.. By showing how they organize themselves to go beyond policy constraints and exclusion, utilizing their social, kinship, speculation, and possible religious networks, I will explore how migrants earn and negotiate their informal and quasi-visible spaces in the city life of current China. The experiences of how these migrant trades overcome institutional barriers also challenge our understandings of the relation between policies and local responses.

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