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WRITING ROADS: WORKER STORYTELLING, KARMIC HAUNTING, AND THE MANAGEMENT OF CONSTRUCTION IN CHINA

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Abstract

On the edge of a sparsely-populated area in China’s countryside, a young worker with an excavator was shoving an unclaimed corpse out of the way of a highway under construction. Afraid of being seen by the nearby villagers, he hastily mixed the bones with trash and then dumped them a mile away under cover of night. It was not until later, when the worker died during construction, that the story of the corpse turning into a ghost and asking for the worker’s life, circulated in the field. Faced with the daily hazards of poorly regulated labor, workers tend to dramatize accidents, relating them to relocated corpses, disturbed animal dwellings, or old trees growing in tomb dirt. To workers, these ghosts haunt the construction; therefore, a machine malfunction must be redressed by local rituals, a coworker’s death may be a sacrifice for the moral insult to the land, and a bossy manager’s death is a divine punishment for the state’s disrespect of workers. Attending to Chinese workers’ affective responses to death, infrastructure, history, landscape and state power, this thesis aims to explore how ghosts speak to Han migrant workers in Xinjiang as they adjust to ever-expanding, dangerous, and sometimes fatal infrastructure projects by engaging not only with one another, but also with supervisors, local bureaucrats, company managers, and ritual specialists who actively participate in the construction.

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65 pages

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Date Issued

2020-08

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Keywords

accident; China; construction industry; ghost stories; infrastructure

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Committee Chair

Admussen, Nicholas

Committee Co-Chair

Committee Member

Nadasdy, Paul

Degree Discipline

Asian Studies

Degree Name

M.A., Asian Studies

Degree Level

Master of Arts

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Government Document

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

Types

dissertation or thesis

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