Temporary Movement, Temporary Jobs: “Flexibility” of Food Delivery Workers in China’s Platform Economy

  • Xue Ma University of Victoria


“Working for a platform” has become an alternative way for making a living in urban China. Millions of rural migrant workers in China joined the emerging food-order and food-delivery platforms in the past decade, working as “riders” (qishou, aka food delivery workers). Despite the rise of the platform economy and the massive volume of working opportunities it brings to migrant workers, it has not alleviated the socio-economic inequality of this already-marginalized group. This article examines the notion of “flexibility” of gig work in contemporary China, specifically through studying the riders working for food delivery platforms. By investigating the details of working conditions, the recruiting and hiring system, as well as the notion “flexibility” largely used by migrant workers to justify for their motivations in becoming riders, I argue that the platform economy, such as the food delivery industry in China, governs migrant workers with its algorithm design and subcontracting system. Facing the limited options of a sustaining livelihood, rural migrant workers enter the platform economy with “flexibility” as their rationale to make ends meet. However, when examined within the broader socio-economic context, this notion of “flexibility” obscures the fact that platform capitalism further marginalizes rural migrant workers. 


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Author Biography

Xue Ma, University of Victoria

Xue Ma is a PhD student (University of Victoria) in anthropology, interested in social studies of money and finance. Her research is guided by a fundamental inquiry on money, finance, and inequality.