Becoming Urban: Rural Sales Workers in China’s Transitioning Economy


What happens to the legions of young people from rural backgrounds who graduate yearly from China’s rapidly growing number of universities? This project develops theory about precarisation and social stratification from an Asian perspective through an ethnographic study of rural graduates' most important employer: the sales sector. It views the millions of young people who work in sales offices as embodying China’s economic transition marked by urbanisation, the upscaling of food production, a growing service sector, and increased internal consumption. Can this emerging section of the urban labour market function as an entry point into urban society for graduates from rural backgrounds, enabling them to build up stable lives in the city and access citizenship rights?

Key Publications

Sier, W. (2021) Keep On Moving: Rural University Students as Sales Workers in South and Central China. Pacific Affairs, 94 (2): 265-283.

Sier, W. (2020) Daughters' Dilemmas: The Role of Female University Graduates in Rural Households in Hubei Province, China. Gender, Place & Culture. DOI:

Sier, W. (2020) The Price of Aspirations. Education Migrants' Pursuit of Higher Education in Hubei province, China. European Journal of Development Research 33(1): 16-34.