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2. Re-Drawing the Boundaries of Work Views on the Meaning of Work (Gongzuo)

图书名称:Re-Drawing Boundaries: Work, Households, and Gender in China
图书作者:Barbara Entwisle and Gail E. Henderson    ISBN:
出版社:Berkeley: University of California Press    出版日期:2000年

Gail E. Henderson, Barbara Entwisle, Li Ying, Yang Mingliang, Xu Siyuan, and Zhai Fengying

Work is an ambiguous concept everywhere, but perhaps especially so in contemporary China, where economic reforms implemented in the 1980s fundamentally changed the landscape of employment opportunities. Before the reforms, state and collective-run firms accounted for virtually all urban employment. This was still largely true in 1990, when 94 percent of urban employees worked in the state or collective sectors (see table 2.1). The state and collective sectors continue to dominate employment in urban areas, but the degree to which they do so is beginning to slip, together accounting for 83 percent of urban employees in 1995. Employment in the private sector, previously at zero, has mushroomed. By 1995, foreign or jointly run enterprises accounted for 5 percent of the urban labor force, domestic private enterprise (siying) 3 percent, and individually or household run businesses (geti) another 9 percent. Distinctions between what does and does not count as work have likely become muddied with the weakening of employment guarantees, the growth of contract and temporary labor, and the reemergence of the household as a focus of economic activity.

Changes have been even more pronounced in rural areas. Within agriculture, the “household responsibility system” replaced collective agriculture, shifting agricultural activities from the collective to the private sector and under household control. Privatization of sideline and other domestic activities also redefined the boundaries between “inside” and “outside” work. At the same time, industrialization of the country side led over 200 million people to leave agriculture for work in industry, trade, and services during the first 15 years of reform. Table 2.1 shows that the number of employees in TVEs (township-and village-run enterprises, xiangzhen qiye ) doubled between 1985 and 1995, and by the latter date accounted for 29 percent of workers in rural areas. Employment in private enterprises (siying qiye) and

 
<COL align=left> <COL align=right> <COL align=right> <COL align=right> <COL align=right> <COL align=right> <COL align=right>
TABLE 2.1 Urban and Rural Employees in China
Percentatge Distibution of Employees by Employment Sector
  Total Millions State Collective Other[a] Private Individual
SOURCE: State Statistical Bureau, 1996. Zhongguo tongji nianjian 1995 (Statistical yearbook of China 1995). Beijing: Statistical Publishing House of China, pp. 90–91.
[a]
[b]
Total Urban
1985 128.08 70.2 26.0 0.3   3.5
1990 147.30 70.2 24.1 1.1 0.4 4.2
1995 173.46 64.9 18.1 5.2 2.8 9.0
Hubei Urban
1995 8.97 65.0 15.5 4.5 2.2 13.3
Percentage Distribution of Workers by Employment Sector
  Total Millions TVEs[b] Private Individual    
Total Rural
1985 370.65 18.8 —— ——    
1990 420.10 22.1 0.3 3.5    
1995 450.42 28.6 1.0 6.8    
Hubei Rural
1995 18.10 36.7 1.2 12.7    
household businesses (geti hu) rose to account for 1 and 7 percent of rural workers, respectively. Diversification of employment thus has taken place along three dimensions—sector (private/state and collective); occupation (agricultural/nonagricultural); and mode of organization (inside/outside the household)—with likely consequences for how different kinds of economic activities are viewed and valued.

Within the context of these changes, our goal is to understand how boundaries are drawn between what counts as work and what does not. Our approach is “emic”—to ask people themselves what they think. Because economic transformation has been most dramatic in the countryside, we direct our attention to that context, drawing data from 12 focus group interviews conducted in two villages and two towns. Focus group interviews are guided group discussions on prespecified topics (Stewart and Shamdasani 1990). Developed initially as a marketing tool, focus group interviews have been used by social scientists to gather qualitative data in a wide variety of settings (e.g., Knodel et al. 1990). For our purposes, group interviews were preferred over individual interviews because we were interested in the discussion of work and its meaning, the points of agreement and disagreement. The focus group interviews were conducted in Hubei province in October 1995. Individual and household businesses and TVEs are more common in Hubei than in China as a whole, as table 2.1 shows. This is an advantage, given the purpose of our qualitative research: We want to investigate the concept of work in a context in which work itself is changing.

The particular concept we explore is gongzuo, which can be translated as job or work.[1] We chose this concept because it is frequently used in survey data collection. The China Health and Nutrition Survey (CHNS), for example, a data source used by several contributors to this volume (chaps. 8 and 15), asks whether each person in the household “has gongzuo”; occupation, employment sector, and other information is collected for those household members who do. Gongzuo encapsulates a modern view of work focused on individual activity outside of household contexts (see chap. 1). During the Maoist era (1949–1976), the term gongzuo was restricted to work for wages in the formal sector in a work unit (danwei), for which urban household registration was required. This type of work, especially in a state run work unit, topped the job status hierarchy at that time (Walder 1986), perhaps corresponding to the idea of “a real job.” As we will show, there is considerable ambiguity about the meaning of gongzuo now.

FOCUS GROUP INTERVIEWS: DESIGN

In the focus group interviews, a vignette was used to generate discussion about work (gongzuo). Participants were told that a long-lost relative of the Feng family, Mrs. Chen, was coming for a visit and “we would like you to help us describe their activities to Mrs. Chen.” Then the activities of each of three Feng brothers and their wives were described, followed by two questions: “If Mrs. Chen asks him (her), ‘What do you do?’ (Ni zuo shenma?) what will he (she) answer?” Then, “Does he (she) have a job/work?” (Ta you mei you gongzuo?).Table 2.2 lists the activities of the Feng family members as they were described to the focus group participants in the town and village interviews.

We predicted that in the present time of economic transition, there would be considerable variation in whether or not someone's activities were thought of as gongzuo. Focus group participants' attitudes might depend on characteristics of the activity, such as locus vis-à-vis the household and whether and how it was remunerated (cf. chap. 3). They might depend on the gender of the person performing the activity. Women's contributions might be less visible than men's, even when the work they do is the same. We also hypothesized that response to the Feng family vignette would vary

 
<COL align=left> <COL align=left> <COL align=left>
TABLE 2.2 Activities of the Feng Family in Focus Group Vignettes
  Town Interview Village Interview
First brother Private transport company with 4 men; then seasonal fieldwork Grows cotton, family garden; then seasonal fieldwork
First brother's wife Cooks, cleans, washes clothes, small garden; then large garden, expensive mushrooms to sell Cooks, cleans, washes; seasonal fieldwork
Second brother Full time in collective farm tool factory; then only two month's salary Runs family transport business
Second brother's wife Cooks, cleans, washes clothes, family dry goods shop; then opens bigger store outside home, 6 days/wk Cooks, cleans, washes clothes, family garden, raises chickens (made 800 yuan ); then chickens die (makes 100 yuan ); then job in local textile factory
Third brother Permanent but only part year in large joint-venture beer factory; then full time, permanent Helps second brother with transport business; then factory subcontract for transport, good money
Third brother's wife Job at neighborhood-run day care center Cooks, cleans, washes clothes, family garden, few chickens and pig; then helps in family dry goods shop
depending on the characteristics of the people in the group. That is, the gender and age of the focus group participants, and whether they resided in a village or town, or in a wealthy or poor county might be related to their views of work and what activities would count as gongzuo.

The vignettes were carefully structured to allow us to compare and contrast reactions to characteristics of the activity and to the gender of the worker. The village interviews allow for comparisons between (1) agricultural and nonagricultural activities (a man operating a farm versus a man operating a family transport business; a woman with a chicken business versus a woman working in a family-run shop selling dry goods), (2) year round and seasonal activities (in agriculture), and (3) pay (a woman who makes a lot of money selling chickens, a woman who makes only a little money selling chickens, and a woman who raises chickens for home consumption; a man who helps his brother with a transport business versus a man who arranges a lucrative subcontract for the family transport business).

The vignettes used in the town interviews allow for comparisons between (1) activities in different employment sectors (a man working in a collective factory versus a man working in a joint venture factory; a woman employed by a neighborhood-run day care center versus a woman who works in a family store), (2) seasonality (a man with year-round versus a man with seasonal work in a small private transport company; a man with half-year versus a man with full-year employment in a large joint-venture beer factory), and (3) pay (a woman with a small garden versus a woman with a large garden that produces expensive mushrooms to sell; a man with a job in a collective factory versus a man with the same job who only gets two months' salary; a woman who works in a small family shop in the home versus a woman who works in a large family-run store outside of the home). We constructed these comparisons to highlight one particular aspect of work and to control for other aspects, including gender of the worker.

Other comparisons were designed to see whether the gender of the worker makes any difference. The vignettes used in the village interviews allow for comparisons between men and women involved in year-round agricultural activities, seasonal fieldwork, and a family-run business. Those used in the town interviews allow for comparisons between men and women running a family business, and men and women with employment in the state or collective sector. The goal was to be able to examine the gender of the worker independent of the characteristics of the activity.

Our focus group interviews are somewhat more structured than is typically the case. It is not unusual for moderators to be given no more than a list of topics to cover in an interview, leaving up to them the order, exact wording, follow-up questions, and probes. In contrast, we asked moderators to follow particular question sequences and to use specific terms and language when asking about activities. We wanted to examine each interview as a whole, but we also wanted to be able to compare the ways the different focus groups regarded work or job characteristics (e.g., sector of employment, degree of permanence, level of remuneration), especially in relation to the gender of the worker. A common set of “stimuli” was important for making comparisons between interviews. Also, since our interest was in understanding the meaning of gongzuo and the factors affecting people's views of it, controlling how and when moderators used the term in the course of the interview was important.

Twelve focus group interviews were held—the total number determined by the resources available. Separate groups of mothers, fathers, and grandmothers were interviewed in two town neighborhoods and in two rural villages in Hubei province.[2] The differences in group composition offer important opportunities for exploring the meaning of gongzuo. Comparing the views of mothers and fathers allows us to see whether interpretation of this concept varies by gender of the observer as well as by gender of the person performing the activity in the vignette. Comparing the views of mothers and grandmothers allows us to see whether interpretation varies by generation.

The sites for the focus group interviews were selected for their potential to generate contrasts. We selected two pairs of town neighborhoods and rural villages. One pair was located in a relatively developed county, Fu Xian, the other in a relatively poor county, Han Shan Xian.[3]

Fu county seat is a town on its way to becoming a city. It is full of commercial and industrial businesses, including department stores, restaurants, hotels, textile factories, a joint-venture feed factory, gravel transport, and lumber companies. A large hospital has also opened recently. In contrast, Han Shan county seat is not marked by the dust and dirt of construction seen in Fu county seat. There is barely a building that rises above three stories. The town is characterized by one resident as having “not much money, not much of an economy.” Whereas the neighborhood in Fu county seat selected for the interviews is very close to the town center, the one in Han Shan county seat is a village annexed by the town where many people continue to farm in the adjacent fields, despite their urban registration.

The two villages also differ, although not as dramatically. Residents of Fu county village are engaged in intensive, profitable vegetable gardening. There are a number of private household businesses, including duck raising, dry goods stores, and a clothing store, but there are no village-run enterprises. (Several were attempted but failed.) Residents who work outside the village go to factories run by other villages or towns. Han Shan county village, however, has its own village-run factories, whose enterprises include stone-cutting, flour grinding, brick-making, and tree-cutting. As in Fu county village, there are family-run businesses, restaurants, and various small vendors. While the Fu county village focuses on growing vegetables, in Han Shan county village agricultural products include rice, wheat, sweet potatoes, peanuts, cotton, tobacco, and soybeans, and many families raise chickens and pigs. Despite this apparent economic diversity, people in Han Shan county village consider themselves and their village to be poor, reporting a per capita income that is only about 25 percent of that of Fu county village. Many of the houses have mud floors and are made of mud bricks. While Fu county village does not look very different, all of the houses have electricity, half have televisions, and a few people are building new homes.

In textbook applications, focus group participants are strangers to one another. Such a plan is not well suited to the social realities of life in the rural villages and town neighborhoods that make up the Chinese countryside. We expected that participants recruited from the same village or neighborhood would already know one another, and we verified that this was true at the beginning of each interview. The conversations that took place within the focus group interviews thus occurred within a social context that pre-and postdated the interview itself. For this reason, we took great care in the design of the interview to avoid placing participants in potentially embarrassing situations. The vignettes especially helped in this regard, providing a venue for participants to express their opinions about social relationships and work activities without having to discuss the particulars of their own situation or that of anyone else they knew. The benefits of recruiting participants from the same neighborhood or village are many and include practical considerations as well as the opportunity to account for contextual differences in responses.

The focus group interviews were conducted by staff members of the county, provincial, and national Epidemic Disease Prevention Stations. Residents of neighborhoods and villages that were already part of the China Health and Nutrition Survey were recruited with a letter that described the topics of the focus group interviews and requested their signed, informed consent. This consent procedure was repeated verbally at the start of the interviews. The groups consisted of six or seven participants. The interviews took about one and one-half hours. Instead of tape recorders, two trained note-takers were used. The note-takers combined their versions, and translation was done immediately. The analyses described below are based on the Chinese versions and English translations of the focus group interviews, the comments of the moderators, and our own observations.

THE INTERVIEWS: OPINIONS ABOUT GONGZUO

The Feng family vignette elicited a variety of opinions about gongzuo. In some groups, virtually all activities in the vignettes were labeled gongzuo, while other groups were much more conditional or restrictive in their approach. Participants of some groups quickly came to a consensus view, whereas in other groups there was dissension. Our goal here is to describe the focus group interviews in such a way that some general conclusions can be drawn from the details of the discussions. In the following paragraphs, we review the evidence that supports four conclusions about gongzuo and its meaning for the focus group participants: (1) gongzuo has diverse interpretations; (2) differences in views about this term and the general concept that underlies it are not tied in any obvious way to gender or generation of the participants, or to their urban-rural location or its economic context; (3) rather, classification of particular activities as gongzuo or not depends on employment sector, degree of permanence, pay, and nature of the activity; (4) gender of the worker (in the vignettes) matters, but only a little bit.

1. There is no common understanding of gongzuo.

This first point is easily made by considering the totality of the focus group interviews. Many of the specific activities we asked about drew a mixed response. For example, discussing agricultural fieldwork, some focus group participants said, “Farming is gongzuo. It earns money. Whenever you do that, you have gongzuo.” Others said, “It isn't gongzuo. It's not a job. He works on a farm.” Likewise, with respect to agricultural sideline businesses, some participants commented, “She has gongzuo. It's a household sideline. If you plant cash crops, it's gongzuo.” Others said, “Sideline production is not gongzuo.” Regarding family-run nonagricultural businesses, some said, “She's running a store, contributing to the family finances. She has gongzuo.” The contrasting opinion was: “She works for herself, but it's not gongzuo. Getihu (private household business) is not gongzuo.

Focus group participants did agree that permanent, full-time employment in a danwei (work unit) is gongzuo. In five of the six town focus groups, participants were unanimous in their view that the Feng brother with a job in a collective factory manufacturing farming tools has gongzuo. There was complete agreement about the third Feng brother's wife, who works in a neighborhood-run day care center. All thought that she has gongzuo too. Similarly, in all six village focus groups, participants agreed that when the second Feng brother's wife goes to work in a local factory making cotton clothes, she has a job. One of the fathers from Han Shan county village remarked, “Definitely she has gongzuo, because she works in a unit.” However, there was little agreement about household-based activities in the private sector, including fieldwork, household sidelines, and running or working in a family business.

2. Interpretations do not depend on focus group composition.

Whether or not particular activities are classified as gongzuo does not depend very much on the composition of the focus group. This finding comes from an examination of the focus group interviews one by one, and is particularly well illustrated by the four focus group interviews of fathers. One of these groups expressed a broad concept of work, two groups offered restrictive definitions, and the final group took a conditional approach to the classification of the various activities. As evidence, we provide a brief summary of each of these interviews.

The Fu county village fathers were vocal about their beliefs that everything is gongzuo. Six of the seven fathers had completed lower middle school and one was a high school graduate; four were farmers, two drivers, and one did interior design. They all felt that all of the Fengs' activities should be considered gongzuo. Fieldwork, whether seasonal or not, is gongzuo. “You can earn money from farming.” “Even if it's just in the fields, it's still gongzuo.” “Seasonal field work is gongzuo —making money is gongzuo.” Every one agreed that the first brother's wife, who works in the fields at planting and harvest times as well as cooks, cleans, and washes clothes, has gongzuo. Operating and even helping in a family transport business counts as gongzuo. “It depends on whether there is money coming in.” Raising chickens (even when most of them get sick and die) is gongzuo. “Of course,” going to a local factory is gongzuo. This group was equivocal only when it came to classifying the activities of the third brother's wife, who takes care of a few chickens and a pig, works in the family garden, cooks, cleans, and washes clothes. But most agreed that doing housework is also gongzuo work. “She has an occupation. She has gongzuo.” “If you live in a village, you are a farmer.” When in the vignette the third brother's wife joins her mother-in-law in a family shop, all agreed that she has gongzuo. “She changed from being a housewife to doing a business.”

In contrast, the fathers in Han Shan county village were hesitant to say that anything outside the formal sector was gongzuo. The occupations of these fathers were comparable to the fathers in Fu county village (three were farmers; one was a driver; the others did construction or technical work), although their education was a little lower (ranging from less than primary school to middle-level technical school). Most agreed that the first Feng brother, engaged in agricultural fieldwork, does not have gongzuo, although one father dissented: “Whenever you have a thing to do, you have gongzuo.” Opinions did not change with seasonal fieldwork. Running or helping out in a family transport business does not count as gongzuo either. It only becomes gongzuo when the third Feng brother arranges a factory subcontract. For the fathers in Han Shan county village, the Feng wife engaged in fieldwork does not have gongzuo, nor does the wife selling chickens for 800 yuan. They were divided about the wife helping the mother-in-law in the family shop.

The fathers in Han Shan county town were also fairly restrictive in their classification of work activities, though not as restrictive as the fathers in Han Shan county village. The seven fathers in the Han Shan county town group included three farmers, three blue-collar workers, and one in getihu business; two were primary school graduates, four had lower middle school degrees, and one was a high school graduate. This group tended not to rate activities outside the state and collective sectors as gongzuo, although there were exceptions. Work in a getihu transport business is gongzuo, as long as it is not seasonal. These fathers were divided about the second Feng brother's job in a collective factory, particularly when in the vignette the salary is reduced to two months' pay for a year's work. This was the only focus group that questioned whether collective factory employment counts as gongzuo. These fathers were also mixed about a temporary job at the joint-venture factory (as were many of the groups), but agreed that permanent, full-time

 
<COL align=left> <COL align=middle> <COL align=middle>
TABLE 2.3 Contextual Variability in Definitions of Gongzuo
Broad Definition
Fathers Village Rich county
Mothers Village Poor county
Grandmothers Town Rich county
Grandmothers Village Rich county
Grandmothers Town Poor county
Restrictive Definition
Fathers Village Rich county
Fathers Town Poor county
Conditional Definition
Fathers Town Rich county
Mothers Town Rich county
Mothers Town Poor county
Mothers Village Rich county
Grandmothers Village Poor county
work there constitutes gongzuo. As for their opinions about the Feng wives, most felt that housework is not gongzuo, although one or two changed their opinions when the first brother's wife's sideline business selling mushrooms was profitable. In contrast to their attitude about the transport business, the fathers in Han Shan county town did not consider working in a family shop, even if it is a large store, to be gongzuo. “She has no gongzuo. She just has a small store with her family.” “A getihu is not gongzuo.

In contrast, the Fu county town fathers tended to label activities as gongzuo when the hours increased from part-to full-time, when the enterprise grew, and when the pay increased. They agreed that the first Feng brother's work in the family transport business qualifies as gongzuo, even when seasonal. Collective factory work is also gongzuo, though according to one father, receiving only two months' salary is not. All but one father said that temporary work at a joint-venture factory is gongzuo, but that father shifted his opinion when the factory work becomes full-time. Wives doing housework and raising animals for family consumption do not have gongzuo, according to the Fu county town fathers. However, when the first brother's wife has a cash crop garden and makes money, “then she has gongzuo —she runs a specialized household.” The fathers' opinions were split about whether running a small family shop is gongzuo, but all agreed that it is gongzuo when the shop turns into a large store with full-time employment.

It would be difficult to identify a “fathers' perspective” from these four interviews. Similarly, evaluating each of the twelve focus group interviews according to whether a broad, restrictive, or conditional definition of gongzuo was expressed, no obvious pattern emerges related to the different groups (see table 2.3).

Two of the fathers groups were the only ones to convey a restrictive definition, while a third fathers group expressed a broad definition and the fourth, a conditional one. Mothers and grandmothers groups expressed both broad and conditional definitions. Town and village groups are evenly distributed among the possibilities. No specific definition of gongzuo is associated with Fu (rich) and Han Shan (poor) county groups. Thus, the meaning of gongzuo expressed by each focus group as a whole appears to be unrelated to the group's gender, generation, urban-rural residence, or economic context.

3. Whether an activity is gongzuo work depends on the nature of the activity, the employment sector, degree of permanence, and pay.

Whereas virtually everyone in every focus group agreed that nonagricultural work in the state or collective sector is gongzuo, there was disagreement about other forms of activity. Take agricultural work, for example. Two of the six village groups felt that fieldwork does not count as gongzuo, and participants in one of the other village groups could not agree among themselves. One of the village groups was unwilling to classify a lucrative chicken business as gongzuo, and there was disagreement in another group. Although none of the town groups was completely unwilling to classify gardening—even growing expensive mushrooms for sale— as gongzuo, there was considerable disagreement in three of the six groups. What is it about these activities that raises doubts in the minds of the focus group participants? Is it agricultural activity per se? Or is it some characteristic of agricultural work, such as its seasonality, or generally low level of remuneration?

In the village focus group interviews, we asked participants to consider the first Feng brother's small farm and the second Feng brother's small transport business. Five groups classified the small transport business as gongzuo, and some participants of the sixth wanted to do so. Only three groups thought that the farm work qualified as gongzuo, two groups thought not, and there was disagreement in the other. We also asked participants in the village interviews to think about the chicken business of the second Feng brother's wife and the small shop in which the third Feng brother's wife worked. Four groups considered activity in either type of business as gongzuo, and there was disagreement about both types of business in the fifth group. But opinions in the sixth group changed: the chicken business was clearly not gongzuo, while the shop clearly was. Evidence from the village interviews suggests that, holding constant the size and household nature of the business as well as the gender of the person working in it, nonagricultural activity is more likely to be seen as gongzuo than agricultural activity. This distinction seems less relevant in urban areas, based on a comparison of reactions in the town interviews to the mushroom business of the first Feng brother's wife and the shop run by the second Feng brother's wife.

Initially, we thought that the seasonality of agricultural work might be one reason for ambiguity about its classification. The village focus group interviews asked explicitly about this, inconnection with the first Feng brother and his wife. We were surprised to find that opinions about the fieldwork done by this couple were mostly the same, regardless of whether the fieldwork was seasonal or year-round. Remuneration, however, did make a difference.

In the village interviews, the relevant comparisons begin with the second brother's wife, who works in the family garden, cooks, cleans, washes clothes, and raises chickens for sale. Initially, the chickens bring in 800 yuan. To put this amount in to perspective, according to interviews conducted with village officials in 1995, per capita income in Fu county village was 4000 to 5000 yuan, and in Han Shan county village, 1000 yuan. Four of the six village focus groups described the second brother's wife as having gongzuo, the fifth group said that she does not have gongzuo, and the sixth group could not agree. Then, according to the vignette, her chickens get sick and many die. She now makes only 100 yuan. This change in economic circumstances had little effect on the opinions expressed by the focus groups. A grandmother in Fu county village commented, “It's hard to say. She has gongzuo, but she does not have very good fortune.”

But if we compare opinions about the second brother's wife with opinions about the third brother's wife, the importance of an income is clear. The only difference in the activities of these two wives is that the second brother's wife makes money raising chickens, whereas the third brother's wife raises them for home consumption only. Fu county village fathers thought that the second brother's wife has gongzuo, regardless of the amount of money the chicken business brings in, but their opinions were mixed when chickens are raised for consumption. Similarly, the Han Shan county village fathers began with mixed views about the second brother's wife, but agreed that raising chickens for consumption only is not gongzuo. The opinions of mothers and grandmothers were less influenced by income, with one curious exception. Fu county village mothers said that the third brother's wife has gongzuo but that the second brother's wife does not. It is difficult to know what to make of this. In the debriefing, the moderator wondered about the comprehension level of the mothers in this group.

Thus, in the village interviews it appears that if an activity generates some income, it is more likely to be seen as gongzuo. Level of remuneration does not seem to make much of a difference beyond that. In the town interviews, however, level of remuneration does matter. In these interviews we find the same general pattern: if a sideline business generates some income, it is more likely to be seen as gongzuo. When the first brother's wife enlarges her garden and starts to make a lot of money selling the mushrooms she now grows, opinions shift. The two town groups in which all participants agreed that cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, and tending a small garden do not count as gongzuo no longer held to this view when the garden produces income and so some portion of the wife's activities begins bringing in money. In the words of one of the mothers in Fu county seat: “She has gongzuo because she earns money.” This was not a unanimous view, either in that focus group, or more generally. Three of the focus groups agreed that when her gardening activities produce a large income the first brother's wife has gongzuo, but there was disagreement in the three other groups. Even when participants disagreed, however, the income associated with an activity was identified as a relevant consideration. For example, one of the fathers in Han Shan county seat remarked, “Although economic conditions are better, it can't change our perspective.”

To sum up the discussion so far, ambiguity about whether agricultural activity counts as gongzuo appears to stem from the nature of the activity per se and also from its level of remuneration. We now turn to private sector activity, asking a similar set of questions. We noted earlier that employment in a danwei clearly is work according to the focus group interviews, whereas there was less agreement about household-based and private-sector activities. Why? Is it because gongzuo is a designation that has been reserved for formal sector—state and collective—employment? Or is it because of the low level of remuneration associated with some jobs in the private sector, or because of their temporary, seasonal, or unstable nature? We need to say at the outset that we can only answer these questions for nonagricultural work. All of the agricultural activities we asked about in the focus group interviews were household-based and in the private sector. Indeed, very few agricultural workers can be found in the state or collective sector nowadays.

In the town focus group interviews, two comparisons are specifically relevant to employment sector. The first is between the first Feng brother's private transport business and the second Feng brother's job in a collective factory that manufactures farming tools. The focus groups responded similarly to these two jobs—that both are gongzuo. The second is between the dry goods store operated by the second Feng brother's wife and the job of the third Feng brother's wife in a neighborhood-run day care center. Here, we see more of a difference in response. Although four of the six groups classified both as gongzuo, the other two groups did not. Mothers in Fu county town could not agree about working in the dry goods store, although most thought that this is not gongzuo. “She works for herself, but she does not have gongzuo.” “Getihu is not gongzuo.” None of the fathers in Han Shan county town were willing to count work in the dry goods store as gongzuo. “She doesn't have gongzuo. She just has a small store with her family.” But everyone in all groups agreed that a job in the day care center is gongzuo.

Doubts about private sector activities become even more evident when the vignette points out their low level of remuneration and temporary, seasonal, or unstable nature. Consider first the town focus group interviews. Whereas the first brother's job in a small private transport company with four other men counts as gongzuo for everyone in five focus groups and for most everyone in the sixth, this is no longer true when the moderator changes the work to seasonal—whenever the harvest comes in. There is now disagreement in two of the groups, and in a third no one is willing to label the activity as gongzuo because it is “unstable.” Similarly, when the third brother's job in a large joint-venture beer factory changes from six to twelve months a year, doubts expressed about calling it gongzuo in two of the six focus group interviews disappear.

Indeed, level of remuneration is important even for jobs in the state and collective sector. When the second brother, who works in a collective factory that manufactures farm tools, receives only two months' salary rather than a full year's salary for his work, opinions shift in three of the six town focus groups. Five of the six groups were unanimous that he has gongzuo on full salary, but only two thought so after the salary cut. Comments in those two groups included: “No. Can't change the answer. He has gongzuo.” “He still has gongzuo, just no wages.” “We think he has gongzuo.” “He has gongzuo, but the benefit is not much.” Comments on the other side included: “It's hard to say.” “He doesn't have a job.” “He doesn't have gongzuo now.”

In summary, in village and town focus groups, whether or not an activity is viewed as gongzuo depends on its characteristics. If it is agricultural, it is less likely to be seen as gongzuo. Agricultural or not, if it is seasonal, temporary, or unstable, it is less likely to be seen as gongzuo. If it is located in the private sector, especially if it is household based, there will be ambiguity about its classification. If the activity does not generate much of an income, it is less likely to be seen as gongzuo.

Consider what these tendencies mean for how the typical activities of men and women are viewed. Men are more likely to operate year-round nonagricultural businesses, especially in rural China, while women tend to oversee seasonal agricultural side lines. We should not be surprised if the men are more likely to be seen as having gongzuo than the women. In urban areas, men are more likely than women to have stable state-sector jobs, and so again we should not be surprised if men are more likely to be viewed as having gongzuo than women. Of course, in addition to the characteristics of the job, the gender of the worker may affect people's views. We conclude our analysis of the focus group interviews with a consideration of this question.

4. Gender of the worker matters, but only a little bit

The focus group interviews were designed to allow conclusions to be drawn about the gender of the worker independent of the characteristics of the work. In the town interviews it is possible to compare responses to the first Feng brother, who operates a private transport business, with responses to the second brother's wife, who runs a large dry goods store across the street from where the family lives. The responses were the same in five of the six groups. Fathers from Han Shan county town, the sixth group, felt that the brother with the transport business has gongzuo whereas the wife working six days a week in the store does not. “She doesn't have gongzuo. She is running her own store (getihu).” A second comparison is also possible between the second Feng brother's job in a collective factory and the job of the third brother's wife in a neighborhood-run day care center. Virtually everyone agreed that both have gongzuo.

Three comparisons are possible based on the village interviews. The first involves year-round fieldwork. Four of the six groups responded the same way, whether a Feng brother or his wife did this work. A fifth group, grandmothers from Han Shan county village, thought the Feng brother has gongzuo but not his wife. “He has gongzuo. Farming is gongzuo.” “She does not have gongzuo.” “She is a farmer and a housewife.” A sixth group, mothers from Fu county village, held the opposing view. In the debriefing following this interview, the moderator noted that these mothers were emphatic that Feng women doing fieldwork have gongzuo, but Feng men doing fieldwork should “go out and get a real man's job.” A second comparison involves seasonal fieldwork. The results are similar to those for year-round fieldwork, except that one of the fathers from Fu county village was unwilling to describe the seasonal fieldwork of the first Feng brother's wife as gongzuo but expressed no doubts that her husband doing that same work does have gongzuo. A third comparison possible with the village focus group interviews is between the third Feng brother, who helps the second brother with the transport business, and his wife, who helps her mother-in-law run a small shop. One group, the grandmothers in Han Shan county village, distinguished between helping with a transport business and actually running it; they felt that running the business is gongzuo, while helping is not. These same grandmothers thought that the wife who helps in a family dry-goods store does have gongzuo, though. The other five groups did not differentiate between helping with and running a business, whether the comparison was between two brothers or a brother and his wife.

Overall, the focus groups showed a tendency to classify men's activities as gongzuo more often than women's, but the tendency was slight.

IMPLICATIONS

Whichever way we organize our data, we find ambiguity in the meaning of the term gongzuo. Participants in 12 focus group interviews agreed that full-time, permanent, formal sector, danwei employment is a job; they disagreed about other kinds of activities. Interestingly, focus group participants used the same justifications to explain opposing views: “She doesn't have gongzuogetihu is not gongzuo.” “She has gongzuo; a getihu is gongzuo.” Clearly, and perhaps in contrast to the pre-reform era, the term gongzuo has different meanings for different people. Views depend to some extent on characteristics of the work and to a lesser extent on the gender of the worker, but even so, there is no common definition of the boundary between activities that count as work and those that do not. Nor, given a boundary, is it sharply drawn. At least for focus group participants, the typology presented by Rosenfeld (chap. 3), which distinguishes work activities according to their household basis and remuneration status, identifies only the ends of continua between work and not-work. As Harrell (chap. 4) notes, the middle ground is contested territory. That is, formal-sector, paid work outside the household counts as gongzuo, and unpaid work inside the household does not, but the classification of other kinds of activities generates discussion and disagreement.

How work is viewed depends partly on its characteristics—the nature of the activity (agricultural or not), relationship to the household, employment sector, degree of permanence, and pay. If a job is agricultural, it is less likely to be seen as gongzuo. To some extent, this is because such work is seasonal, is organized by households, and tends not to produce much income. If a job is seasonal, temporary, or unstable, it is less likely to be thought of as gongzuo. If it is household-based, or located in the private sector, there is more disagreement about its classification. If the activity does not generate much income, it will be less likely to be seen as gongzuo. Even if we take these specific characteristics of agriculture into account, however, comparing small farms and agricultural sidelines with other kinds of household businesses, agriculture is still less likely to be viewed as gongzuo. These results suggest that the nature of an activity—whether it is located in the agricultural sector or the industrial or service sectors—affects how it is viewed, independent of remuneration or its location vis-à-vis the household. This is a pattern that may well characterize rural economies around the world (cf. Dixon 1982).

Holding the characteristics of work constant, we find a slight tendency to take women less seriously than men. However, the characteristics that typically define the work matter a lot. Consider a permanent job in an urban danwei. Everyone in the focus group interviews agreed that such work counted as gongzuo. Men are more likely than women to hold such jobs (e.g., chap. 7), and while the evidence tends to be anecdotal, men may be more likely to keep them (Jacka 1990). In urban areas, men and women have found work in newly created private businesses in urban areas, but the proprietors are likely to be men (Sabin 1994, 963). Providing assistance in a household business is less likely to be seen as work than running the business, according to our research. In rural China, men more than women have turned to nonfarm work (Entwisle et al. 1995; Parish, Zhe, and Li 1995), at least initially (chap. 8), leaving the agricultural jobs to women (chap. 11; Odgaard 1992). Not only are rural women more likely to do agricultural work than men, they are also more likely to combine different kinds of part-time and seasonal activities (Entwisle et al. 1994), many of them developed from traditionally female sideline activities (“courtyard enterprises”). Work characteristics make the work that men and women do differentially visible. Whether measured in relation to the nature of the activity, its location vis-à-vis the household, employment sector, degree of permanence, or pay, men are more likely to have work that is considered gongzuo than women.

The fact that different kinds of work are differentially visible has implications for monitoring economic change in China. In the cities and towns there is movement away from state and collective sector employment. Contract work and work that is part-time, temporary, and without guaranteed pay are increasing. Households have reemerged as an important base of economic activity. Based on our results, these are the kinds of activities that are less likely to be thought of as gongzuo. In rural areas, industrialization is shifting workers out of agriculture, into jobs that are more likely to be seen as gongzuo. To the extent that attempts to monitor economic change rely on respondent reports (as is the case with social surveys) there is potential for shifting attitudes about work to bias the picture.

One potential source of bias in survey-based monitoring appears not to be a problem, according to the focus group results. Interpretation of gongzuo is not predicted by characteristics of the focus group itself—gender, generation, urban-rural location, or economic level. Based on our results, no systematic bias is introduced by the person who reports on work activities. For example, the picture should be the same whether a husband reports on his and his wife's activities or his wife reports on her own and his activities. Gender differences relate to characteristics of the work and, to a lesser extent, to the gender of the worker, but not the gender or other characteristics of those classifying the activity. Similarly, urban-rural differences relate to the work but not to the views of the persons describing it. This is reassuring from the standpoint of social survey applications. Although there may be systematic error in the data collected about work, it does not appear to be related to the characteristics of the respondents or the site (the sampling unit).

Of course, these conclusions are based on only 12 focus group interviews in two county seats and two rural villages in Hubei province, and it is difficult to know how far the results can be generalized. Strictly speaking, they cannot be generalized at all. Focus group participants were not selected according to any probability method; interviews were conducted in only four sites.[4] However, our failure to find contextual variation in the interpretation of gongzuo may actually be a strength in this regard. We designed the focus group interviews explicitly to explore contextual differences in industrial and commercial development, and their consequences for attitudes about work. We did not find these effects. This is a weak result, but it suggests that where we conducted the interviews did not matter—the findings would have been the same.





NOTES

* Funding for this research was provided by the National Institute of Child Health and Development grant P01-HD28076, the National Science Foundation grant #37486, and the Fogarty Center. In addition to the authors, our research team in Hubei included Susan Short, Jill Bouma, Lin Hai, Lu Bing, Li Dan, and members of the Fu and Han Shan County Epidemic Disease Prevention Stations. Susan Short generously made her field notes from additional research work in Fu and Han Shan counties available to us as background for this chapter.

1. In early versions of this chapter we translated gongzuo as “work.” Various readers of the earlier versions pointed out that gongzuo can also be translated as “job,” and that by using “work” we insert a more evaluative tone than is appropriate. Because of this concern, we have chosen to use the term gongzuo in our essay rather than its various translations: “work,” “activity,” “job.”

2. The larger purpose of the interviews was to explore work and child care, and for this reason we selected mothers, fathers, and grandmothers of children or grandchildren less than seven years of age.

3. The county (xian) names are pseudonyms, referring to the economic level of the counties. Fu means wealthy; Han Shan means cold mountain, implying poverty.

4. The focus group interviews were designed in relation to the China Health and Nutrition Survey. The four sites are sampling units within the larger survey, and as such, were selected as part of a probability design.

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