Ghost Workers (2017-ongoing)

Ghost Workers (2017-ongoing)

The neoliberal process in China has spanned the last four decades, bringing tremendous changes to society — including the massive employment layoff (xiagang) that involved at least 70 million state-owned enterprise (SOE) workers. The workers lost their “iron rice bowl” jobs, and the attendant social, economic and political life that the government had tacitly promised them under the all-encompassing work unit (danwei) system.

My parents were laid-off workers in Tianjin, an industrial northern Chinese city. I witnessed the impact of job losses on ordinary workers since I were young. Two decades after the massive layoff, the world seems to have happily forgotten them, despite some of them are still struggling for decent social benefits while remaining confused about what happened to them. 
 
Their collective muteness, like what Simon. J. Charlesworth wrote, “falling like snow, erasing the pathways through which we might return, once again, to the village of our being”, has fallen into a causal loop with the effacement of the material grounds that memory depends on:  As urban space keeps overwriting itself with new landscape and discourse, the laid-off workers are caught in modern society’s amnesia resulted from what Pierre Nora calls “acceleration of history”, trapped by their past like specters.
 
This nostalgic project invited laid-off workers in Tianjin to act out their old jobs at the site of their former factories. It is dedicated to specters like my parents, with the hope of keeping a piece of tangible reminders of the Chinese laid-off workers’ collective memory and individual humanity.

This nostalgic project invited laid-off workers in Tianjin to act out their old jobs at the site of their former factories. It is dedicated to specters like my parents, with the hope of keeping a piece of tangible reminders of the Chinese laid-off workers’ collective memory and individual humanity.

Essay: Ghost workers: How do people cope with the scar of job loss? A Chinese photographic research project

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