State enterprises were once the main livelihood for urban workers in China, providing lifetime employment, housing, and welfare. However, with the market reforms of the 1980s – 90s, many enterprises faced painful choices of mergers, closures, or bankruptcy, and millions of workers were thrown out of their work units, danwei.1 Since market reforms began, women have been especially hard hit: though women are a minority (about 40 percent) of the workforce, females have comprised a majority (about 60 percent) of laid-off workers (Gale Summerﬁeld 1994; Zhang Qiujian 1999; Shufeng Song 2003), and these female workers have become an ‘‘urban underclass’’ (Wang Zheng 2000: 66). When China formally joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in December 2001, the state media hailed this as a chance to boost prosperity, but some researchers postulated that it would
worsen the situation of urban redundant workers and widen the income gap between men and women (Dorothy J. Solinger 2003; United Nations Development Programme [UNDP] et al. 2003).