China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

1 - Express Delivery in China: Deliverymen, Logistics Technologies, and Service Work

Saturday, July 7
2:40 PM - 4:10 PM
Location: Maple, Lower Ground Floor

This paper traces the privatization of postal services and the informalization of delivery labor in China’s new economy. Online shopping, which has grown at a ferocious pace over the last five years, has spurred the rapid growth of delivery and logistics services in both urban and rural areas. Last year 20,000 companies employing 2 million workers delivered over 30 billion parcels throughout the country — 100 million parcels handled every day. A majority of deliverymen, unlike those directly employed by the state-owned EMS and the biggest privately-run SF Express, are classified as “independent contractors” under franchise. These “micro-entrepreneurs” enjoy a certain degree of freedom at work. As self-employed individuals, however, they are not entitled to employment contracts or social insurance benefits. They are outside the sphere of labor relations regulated by the state. Through participant observation in Beijing and extensive review of company data, I find that delivery service work is tightly regulated by mobile logistics technologies, supervisors, and customers, resulting in a steady intensification of labor, reduction of delivery times, and securing of higher profit for the company at the expense of workers. Deliverymen seek to beat the time specified to pick, pack, and send the goods as a means to increase their income. But it is precisely in this way that they routinely consent to their own exploitation by driving up the required speed for fellow workers. This ethnographic research will contribute to economic history, gender studies, and labor politics in global China. 

Jenny Chan

The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong

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