Class, City and State in China: Reappraisal of the Discourse on "Ant Tribe" (yizu)

The term "Ant Tribe" (yizu), referring to low-income graduates who live together in shabby urban neighbourhoods, has become a media idiom in China since 2009. However, compared to other neologisms such as "Dwelling Narrowness" (woju), it takes on more policy implications in contemporary China. Lian Si, a Beijing young scholar who invented this term and launched three surveys on young graduates in seven cities of China, has successfully drawn the attention of the China government to college graduates. What lies behind it is an academic gaze, enabled by the administrative power, on an ambiguously defined group of people. This paper argues that the related surveys and analysis fail to provide a deep understanding of the dramatic changes in contemporary China. The academic, media and administrative discourses on "Ant Tribe" function as repressing a reflexive understanding of state power, class formation and urban restructuring in China over the past decade. This paper, inspired by Pierre Bourdieu's reflexive sociology, concludes with offering alternative strategies for rescuing reflexivity from the discourses centred around the term "Ant Tribe".