2012 Holland Prize

Predatory Princes and Princeley Peddlers: The State and International Labour Migration Intermediaries in China

Biao Xiang
Oxford University, Oxford, UK
Volume 85, No.1, March 2012, pp. 47-68

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Biao Xiang

A sterling combination of in-depth ethnographic research and theoretical sophistication, this year’s Holland Prize winning article by Biao Xiang examines the question of why and how chains of migration agents or brokers in China continue to thrive despite state attempts to deregulate and re-regulate them. Arguing against the common view of private migration agents as interstitial actors operating between demand and supply, markets and states, or migrants and governments, the article demonstrates that agent chains composed of both state-owned migration agents (predatory princes) and sub-contracted private enterprises (princely peddlers) flourish because they form an integral component within a complex and centralized system of governance. The rich fieldwork contributes new knowledge for specialists of China, while the argument provides a refinement of and a challenge to the existing analyses of not only migration brokers but also state-society relations.