Work on migration and gendered mobility has shown us that places are constituted not only by their location and physical features, but also by the specific, often regulated forms of bodies that inhabit them. In this essay, I want to call into question the process by which the connection between place, suzhi (quality), and the migrant body is made to appear logical and commonsensical. I consider a common discursive practice of branding the baomu (maid), namely identifying the domestic worker and comments on the service provided by the domestic worker according to her place of origin (e.g., “Sichuan baomu are more competent than Anhui baomu,” or “local baomu (in Shanghai) are more reliable than waidi baomu” (maids from outside the city). By engaging with critiques of an array of suzhi discourses made by the state, media, and domestic service industry—including both employers of baomu and baomus themselves—to endorse or deplore the performance of domestic workers, I show that public statements about the quality of individuals increasingly take on an external, spatial, and geographic dimension. In other words, the possession or lack of suzhi by an individual or group seems increasingly attributable to place of origin. I argue that an understanding of the ways in which the mobile body is inscribed with difference is crucial to uncovering the variegated processes commodifying and objectifying the migrant body.
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Wanning Sun; Suzhi on the Move: Body, Place, and Power. positions 1 August 2009; 17 (3): 617–642. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-2009-017
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