Get access

“Economically Speaking, I am the Breadwinner”: Chinese Immigrant Narratives of Work and Family in Hong Kong



In this paper, I use a narrative approach to explore in detail three Chinese women’s views about their working lives in Hong Kong following their migration to Hong Kong for the purpose of family reunion. These women, like other would-be migrants from mainland China to Hong Kong, were subjected to the strict system of immigration quotas enforced by the People’s Republic of China and Hong Kong governments, which require mainlanders to wait for up to ten years before they can join their husbands and other family members in Hong Kong. In contrast to Hong Kong stereotypes that portray mainland immigrant wives as lazy, irresponsible, and opportunistic “gold-diggers,” many of these immigrant wives, despite their low-levels of education, their relative lack of local networks to provide childcare, and their initial reluctance to work in Hong Kong, do work outside the home. My analysis traces the shifts in these women’s views of their roles as wives, workers, and citizens during the first five years immediately following their migration to Hong Kong. These shifts result both from the tensions in family life created through their migration process, as well as from seemingly contradictory Hong Kong discourses of belonging that centre on the importance of work but also privilege the importance of family life. Overall, I argue that these women’s stories are united through the shared experience of trying to re-negotiate their ruptured expectations of idealized family life into new forms of social engagement as productive workers and “entrepreneurial” Hong Kong citizens, even as these same idealized familial expectations remain strongly influential on migrant women’s personal goals and value systems. Throughout, I underscore the complex negotiation of norms and desires that frame and inform potential subjective transformations of women immigrants more generally.