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Social Status Compensation: Variations on the Sending of Cultural Remittances among Chinese Overseas

  • Author(s): Zhou, Min
  • Li, Xiangyi
  • et al.
Abstract

Economic reform and social transformation in China since the late 1970s have revitalized diaspora-homeland ties and created new opportunities for transnational engagement. Chinese overseas have made significant contributions to their ancestral homeland’s economic development via foreign direct investment and monetary remittances. They have also donated money to build symbolic structures, such as village gates, monuments, spiritual statues, and street altars, as well as cultural facilities, such as museums, cultural centers, libraries, and public parks, for collective consumption. We call these donations cultural remittances. While cultural remittances have left an indelible imprint on the landscape of migrant-sending hometowns in China, emigrants from different hometowns and resettled in different receiving countries vary in their sending of cultural remittances. This paper proposes a theoretical framework of social status compensation to explain the variations in this particular type of transnational practice among international migrations. We illustrate this framework with a comparative analysis of ethnographic fieldwork data from two migrant-sending communities in South China. We find that the sending of cultural remittances serves as a unique mechanism for social status compensation and that this type of transnational practice is not merely caused by migrants’ own initiatives or by state policies from the top, but also by responses and actions of local governments and local societies in migrant hometowns. It is the interaction of individual experiences at the micro level, such as felt or experienced social marginalization, and multi-level contextual factors, such as wage differential, currency exchange rates, and hometown reception, that affects the realization of social status compensation and accounts for regional variations.

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