Erasure: China’s Migrant Workers in Contemporary Visual Arts

Federica Mirra (Corresponding / Lead Author)

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Since 1978, Mainland China has transformed cities into attractive branding engines to satisfy political and economic agendas at an unprecedented speed and scale. However, what is often concealed is that China’s urban growth has been achieved thanks to the invaluable efforts of migrant workers. Treated as undesirable urban aspects and erased from the city due to their rural origins and low education, migrants’ labour has been crucial to build new cities and infrastructure. To shed light on these social dynamics, I investigate the representation of migrant workers through visual arts. Informed by semi-structured interviews with contemporary artists and visual analysis, this article offers an insight into the official narrative and the socio-spatial inequalities brought upon by urbanisation. Lastly, it contributes to the contemporary visual art discourse, outlining different representational and creative strategies from erasure to socially engaged works which evoke migrant workers’ social and transformative potential.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)487
    Number of pages507
    JournalThird Text
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished (VoR) - 19 Jan 2024


    I wish to thank my doctoral supervisors Prof Jiehong Jiang and Dr Theo Reeves-Evison for their insights and Dr Lauren Walden for being an invaluable mentor. Moreover, I am thankful to the artists mentioned in this paper who kindly agreed to meet to discuss their works and use their images. This work was supported by Midlands3Cities (AHRC) funding under the AHRC Doctoral Studentship Award. This article has stemmed from my doctoral thesis, ‘Urban Imaginaries: Contemporary Art and Urban Transformations in Mainland China since 2001’, Birmingham School of Art, Birmingham City University, 2022.

    FundersFunder number
    Arts and Humanities Research Council


      • Visual arts
      • China
      • Twenty-first century
      • urban studies
      • migrant workers
      • Chinese society
      • harmonious society
      • erasure
      • China Dream


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