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Urban China Series featuring Yang Zhan – “Keep Moving, Little Bees!”: Real Estate Promotion and the Financial Roots of Urban Precariousness in China

September 26, 2022 @ 8:30 pm 10:00 pm

Speaker: Yang Zhan, Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Developers in China’s real estate industry organize temporary workers, or “little bees,” to promote sales. Most developers rely on high-interest loans, and must repay their creditors as quick as possible to keep the chain of funding intact, reduce risk, and secure profits. Thus, little bees are pushed to sell quicker, rather than to sell more units. Due to this hyper-financialization, time on the market becomes a key management target. The little bees aim to convert random encounters on the street into meaningful business relationships. This conversion is facilitated by maps, numbers and speculative culture. Moreover, the demands on sales time are exploitative because in the Chinese real estate market there is a discrepancy between agency and responsibility: Even though little bees’ daily movements are beyond their control, they shoulder immense responsibility, suffer from physical and psychological stress, and are fired at little cost to management. Analyzing this entanglement with time and financialization provides critical insight into urban precariousness in China.

Yang Zhan is an Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology in the Department of Applied Social Sciences at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. She was selected a research fellow of China India Institute at New School for Social Research in 2021. Zhan’s research interests include infrastructure of development, urbanization and migration, mobility and temporality, voluntarism and anthropological theory.  Zhan is the winner of 2020 Eduard B. Vermeer Prize for the Best Article and was shortlisted for Holland Prize in 2022. Zhan’s articles have appeared in Urban Studies, Cities, Positions, Dialectical Anthropology, Urban Anthropology, Anthropological Forum, China Information, Pacific Affairs, among others. Zhan is currently working on a book manuscript tentatively titled Brutal Temporary: Venturing Migrants and the Politics of Future on China’s Urban Fringe.

We would like to thank the MIT Sustainable Urbanization Lab, the School of Community and Regional Planning at the University of British Columbia, and the Harvard Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies. for supporting this event.  Please subscribe to our mailing list if you’d like to receive e-mail notifications: http://mailman.mit.edu/mailman/listinfo/urbanchinaseminar.


September 26, 2022
8:30 pm – 10:00 pm
Event Category:


Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies


Presented via Zoom

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