The Labor of Reinvention: Entrepreneurship in the New Chinese Digital Economy (Columbia University Press, March 2023)
From start-up founders in the Chinese equivalent of Silicon Valley to rural villages experiencing an e-commerce boom to middle-class women reselling luxury goods, the rise of internet-based entrepreneurship has affected every part of China. For many, reinventing oneself as an entrepreneur has appeared to be an appealing way to adapt to a changing economy and society. Yet in practice, digital entrepreneurship has also reinforced traditional Chinese ideas about state power, labor, gender, and identity.
Lin Zhang explores how the everyday labor of entrepreneurial reinvention is remaking China amid changing geopolitical currents. She tells the stories of people from diverse class, gender, and age backgrounds across rural, urban, and transnational settings in rich detail, providing a multifaceted and ground-level view of the twenty-first-century Chinese economy. Zhang explores the surge in digital entrepreneurialism against the backdrop of global financial crises, the U.S.-China trade war, and the COVID-19 pandemic. She argues that the rise of internet-based industries and practices has simultaneously empowered and exploited digital entrepreneurs and laborers. Despite embracing high-tech innovation, state-led entrepreneurialization does not represent a radical break with the past. It has provided a means for implementing developmental goals while retaining the importance of the traditional family and generating new inequalities.
Shedding new light on global capitalism and the digital economy by centering a non-Western perspective, The Labor of Reinvention vividly conveys how the contradictions of entrepreneurialism have played out in China.
Interview With and Review by Zeyi Yang@MIT Technology Review
Interview@China-Britain Business FOCUS with Paul French
digilabour: Entrepreneurial Labor in the Chinese Digital Economy: interview with Lin Zhang
New Book Project
My current major project, and next monograph under preparation—Chimerica Biotech: Transnational Linkages in the Biotechnology Industry—will uncover the US-China linkages in the transnational biotech industry since the 1980s, focusing on the cross-border flow of racialized knowledge work and entrepreneurship, capital, technologies, and policy mobility. It will also explore how recent trends towards decoupling and strategic competition, exemplified by the trade war, the US government’s China Initiative, and China’s indigenous innovation efforts, are destabilizing these linkages and reshaping the global biotech industry and the experiences of transnationally mobile knowledge workers. This project will take me to new spaces of transnational STS, Asian American studies, and the history of US-China relations while expanding my prior engagement with information work and entrepreneurship, and industrial policy and state-building.