China In Your Hand: Gig Economy Research

Avid consumers of this blog (anyone?) will be aware that from time-to-time I get the chance to post examples of the research work done by Dean Aldred’s A-level students from the Shenzhen College of International Education in China and this post is given-over to two short pieces of research into the lives and experiences of gig economy workers in Chinese society.

1. Annie Tang: Are takeaway workers being exploited in China?

This examination of the Gig Economy in China looks at the Takeaway industry and, more-specifically, the hours, personal and family life of the workers involved. This was achieved using semi-structured interviews involving a combination of open and closed questions to generate both quantitative and qualitative data.

The research describes in some detail the lives and working conditions of the 4 male participants in the study and while the sample size was small – making it difficult to generalise to wider populations of age, gender and ethnicity, for example – how Tang arrived at her (snowball) sample is an interesting example of research problem-solving when things don’t go as initially planned. It’s an important takeaway (pun sort-of intended) for students evaluating different types of research methods and methodology.

The research makes an interesting cross-cultural companion piece to the experience of Western gig economy workers, highlighting large areas of congruence, but also interesting work and life differences between the different cultures.

2. Linda Fu: Does the emergence of gig economy widen social inequality?

Linda Fu’s research into the gig economy in Shenzhen also uses semi-structured interviews to examine the working experiences of two sets of gig economy workers: Food Delivery Riders on the Meituan platform and transportation drivers including taxi services, ride-sharing and the like) on the Didi platform.

Both platforms have their familiar Western equivalents, which again makes for an interesting source of comparison for Western students.

While Fu’s research covers much of the same sort of ground as Tang’s, there’s a bit more emphasis on researching the day-to-day experiences of drivers in the gig economy and, consequently, a bit less on relating this to the concept of social inequality.

As with Tang’s research, there are some interesting observations about “the precariat” and the contrast and tensions between traditional Chinese forms of employment and the relatively-recent emergence of gig economy forms of employment.

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