This article examines the dialogic relationship between emotional reflexivity and emotional regime as it explores ‘the hukou puzzle’ in China. In theory, migrants in small- to medium-scale cities can transfer their hukou (household registration) to urban areas, yet are unwilling to do so in practice. Relying on six months’ ethnographic fieldwork and 60 in-depth interviews with ethnic migrant performers, this article argues that previous theorisation of the hukou puzzle neglects emotions and assumes migrants are making rational choices to maximise their profits. In reality, different emotions and feelings inform migrants’ reflexivity regarding an opaque migration regime, which highlights the crucial role of how they exercise their reflexivity in emotional and relational ways. Moreover, a neoliberal emotional regime at the Chinese societal level – which emphasises positive energy, happiness and ‘the China Dream’ – also significantly shapes migrants’ emotional reflexivity. This article points to the need to further explore the intersection between emotional reflexivity and emotional regime in relation to migration.
Based on lengthy ethnographic fieldwork in Southwest China, this article unpacks how precarity and migration have deeply shaped young migrant workers’ understanding and experiences of friendship. The precarious work and living conditions compel young migrants to put more emphasis on the instrumental aspects of friendship, in which they deeply value friends’ help and practical support, which also intertwine closely with the emotional aspects of friendship. High mobility does not mean that migrants are not able to form and maintain ‘meaningful’ social relationships; rather, it is friends’ support and help which sustain migrants’ precarious and highly mobile ways of living. This article also discusses the burdens and risks that are associated with such friendship practices, and how, despite these ‘dark sides of friendship’, young migrant workers still largely rely on their friends to survive and keep going in the city.