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When a Wife is a Visitor: Mainland Chinese Marriage Migration, Citizenship, and Activism in Hong Kong

Ornellas, Melody Li (2014) When a Wife is a Visitor: Mainland Chinese Marriage Migration, Citizenship, and Activism in Hong Kong. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation investigates contemporary Hong Kong-China cross-border marriages. In particular, it focuses on the family life and the complexity of politics, power, and agency in mainland Chinese migrant wives’ individual and collective experiences of rights and belonging in Hong Kong. The women in question are allowed to live temporarily in Hong Kong as “visitors” by utilizing family visit permits which must be periodically renewed in mainland China. These women are denied -- or have highly restricted -- social rights and public resources during their transitional stay in Hong Kong while awaiting formal immigration approval.

Based on anthropological participant observation-based research in Hong Kong and Guangdong Province, China, in 2011-2012 and in the summers of 2008, 2009, and 2010, this dissertation examines the migrant wives’ cross-border living conditions, the difficulties they face during the periodic permit renewal process, the impact of a visitor immigration status on their experience of living in Hong Kong, and how this situation prompts them and their Hong Kong husbands and families to engage in political organizing to claim rights. Against the backdrop of Hong Kong’s expanded public space for activism, migrant wives develop political consciousness and transform themselves into “citizen-like” subjects by learning to express the idea of claiming rights and gaining a positive sense of political subjectivity in relation to the state despite their “visitor” status. In contrast to the state’s formalistic definitions of local vs. non-local/visitor, migrant wives and their families strive to redefine such meanings in their own terms. They emphasize the wives’ familial relationships and their participation in social activities through which their “local” status and ties to Hong Kong are substantively expressed.

Migrant wives’ political and subjective experiences suggest that citizenship is best understood as a process that is negotiated through the efforts of individuals and collective groups to redefine its terms and conditions, but this process is shaped by larger sociopolitical conditions. This dissertation illustrates productive ways to bring together questions of non-citizens’ political organizing and intimate domestic life relationships to illuminate a practice-oriented perspective of citizenship, and to enrich analyses of subjective and cultural aspects of citizenship.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Ornellas, Melody Limlo36@pitt.eduMLO36
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairConstable, Nicolencgrad@pitt.eduNCGRAD
Committee MemberHayden, Robertrhayden@pitt.eduRHAYDEN
Committee MemberRawski, Evelynesrx@pitt.eduESRX
Committee MemberLukacs, Gabriellalukacs@pitt.eduLUKACS
Date: 24 September 2014
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 21 April 2014
Approval Date: 24 September 2014
Submission Date: 31 July 2014
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 243
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Anthropology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: cross-border marriage; citizenship; immigration; migrant activism; gender; Hong Kong (China)
Date Deposited: 24 Sep 2014 16:57
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:22

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  • When a Wife is a Visitor: Mainland Chinese Marriage Migration, Citizenship, and Activism in Hong Kong. (deposited 24 Sep 2014 16:57) [Currently Displayed]


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