The Lost Generation: Life Course Dynamics and Xiagang in China

Eva Hung, Stephen W K Chiu

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    In this article, we describe and analyze the experiences of the xiagang workers from the perspective of life course analysis. Our primary data come from open-ended interviews we conducted between June and August 1999 with 80 redundant workers in Beijing, 43 of whom were female (53.7%) and 37 male (46.3%). The majority (72%) were in their 40s, followed by those in their 30s (19%) and in their 50s (9%). Although we employed a snowballing method to obtain our respondents, the sex and age composition of our sample roughly corresponds to that of all xiagang workers in Beijing; according to estimates for 1999, 77.2% were older than age 35, and 52% were women. For all of China that year, about 45% of xiagang workers were women, and 64.3% were older than age 35. We argue that xiagang workers in their 40s and early 50s, labeled figuratively here as the "lost generation" (shiluo de yidai), are the most disadvantaged in this labor retrenchment not just because of their age but also because of their cohort-specific experiences. Our analysis of this cohort is guided by a general proposition drawn from cohort analysis: "Social change has differential consequences for persons of unlike age[;]... age variations are related to variations in the meaning of a situation, in adaptive potential or options, and thus in linkages between the event and the life course" An implication of this proposition is that the loss of a job can have very different meanings for individuals, depending on their life cycle position. In particular, the difference in meaning will be great between those at the stage of family building and those in early adulthood or near retirement.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)204-236
    JournalModern China
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2003


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