Maid to Order in Hong Kong

Maid to Order in Hong Kong: Stories of Migrant Workers, Second Edition

Nicole Constable
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 2
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 280
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.ctt7v7s1
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Maid to Order in Hong Kong
    Book Description:

    Middle-class Chinese women in the global city of Hong Kong have entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers over the past three decades, and the demand for foreign domestic workers has soared. A decade ago some foretold the decline in foreign workers and the influx of mainland workers. But today over 120,000 women from the Philippines, over 90,000 from Indonesia, and thousands more from other parts of South and Southeast Asia serve as maids on two-year contracts in Hong Kong, sending much needed remittances to their families abroad.

    Nicole Constable tells their story by updating Maid to Order in Hong Kong with a focus on the major changes that have taken place since Hong Kong's reunification with mainland China in 1997, the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s, and the outbreak of SARS in 2002-2003. Interweaving her analysis with the women's individual stories, she shows how power is expressed in the day-to-day lives of Filipina domestic workers and more-recent Indonesian arrivals.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6046-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION
    (pp. vii-xii)
    Nicole Constable
  4. PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION
    (pp. xiii-xxiv)
    Nicole Constable
  5. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xxv-xxviii)
  6. 1 FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC IN HONG KONG
    (pp. 1-17)

    Sundays in Central District are a spectacular sight. There in Hong Kong’s most celebrated financial district, amidst awesome high-rise structures, towering hotels, and dwarfed colonial government buildings, crowds of domestic workers, mainly from the Philippines, but also from other regions of South- and Southeast Asia, gather to socialize, to attend to personal matters, and to escape the confines of their employers’ homes and their mundane weekly routines of domestic work.

    On Sundays in Central the noise is louder, the colors brighter, and the crowds more overwhelmingly female than on other days of the week. Filipinas who gather in Statue Square...

  7. 2 GLOBAL THEMES AND LOCAL PATTERNS
    (pp. 18-43)

    In the 1980s, as the economy in the Philippines worsened, married and unmarried Filipinas, mainly between the ages of twenty and forty, with college degrees or high school diplomas, left their families to work in homes in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia and the Middle East. In the 1990s, as the Indonesian economy worsened, rural Indonesian women, who were mostly single and on the whole younger and less educated than Filipinas, began to echo a similar pattern. Since the 1980s, as the wealth of upper- and middle-class Hong Kong Chinese increased and the availability of local workers decreased,...

  8. 3 SUPERIOR SERVANTS
    (pp. 44-62)

    The notion of the “superior” Cantonese domestic servant—inaccurate as it often is, and fueled by a powerful sense of nostalgia—was never far below the surface of the Hong Kong Chinese discourse on foreign domestic workers during my research in the mid-1990s. Complaints and criticisms about foreign workers were common within the privacy of employers’ households, but were also broadcast on television, aired on the radio, and expressed in the form of editorials in the local papers. Many statements regarding foreign workers echoed the sentiment that the new “maids” were just not as good as the old Chinese “servants.”...

  9. 4 THE TRADE IN WORKERS
    (pp. 63-89)

    Filipina domestic workers are a valuable source of income for hundreds of recruitment and placement agencies in the Philippines and in Hong Kong, an important source of labor for Hong Kong employers, and a crucial source of foreign capital for the Philippine government. It is therefore in the shared economic interest of agencies, employers, and governments on both sides of the China Sea that Filipinas continue to be docile workers. This chapter describes recruitment and the role of agencies in Hong Kong and the Philippines in preparing Filipina domestic workers for the Hong Kong market.

    Although agencies, employers, and governments...

  10. 5 HOUSEHOLD RULES AND RELATIONS
    (pp. 90-118)

    Instructions and guidelines that women learn from agencies and training programs in the Philippines and Indonesia take effect within the context of employers’ homes in Hong Kong. Employers also introduce new forms of discipline to control domestic workers’ bodies. Such discipline is meant to establish “uninterrupted, constant coercion, supervising the processes of the activity rather than its result” (Foucault 1979:137). In other words, controls are not simply directed at the product of a domestic worker’s labor but extend into her most private domains. Her body, her personality, her voice, and her emotions may be subject to her employer’s controls. The...

  11. Photographs
    (pp. None)
  12. 6 DISCIPLINED MIGRANTS, DOCILE WORKERS
    (pp. 119-150)

    Foreign domestic helpers are by definition temporary residents of Hong Kong, and as such, their rights and privileges are different from those of permanent residents. Their ability to deal effectively with work-related problems is limited by their status as outsiders. The contract presumably guarantees certain rights, and it is assumed that because foreign domestic workers have contracts they are better off than workers without them. In practice, however, many of the conditions of the contract are difficult to implement or are interpreted to favor the employer. As a Hong Kong attorney and advocate for foreign workers, Melville Boase, has written,...

  13. 7 RESISTANCE AND PROTEST
    (pp. 151-180)

    “Once upon a time,” Sherry Ortner writes, “resistance was a relatively unambiguous category, half of the seemingly simple binary, domination versus resistance. Domination was a relatively fixed and institutionalized form of power, resistance was essentially organized opposition to power institutionalized in this way” (1995:174). Michel Foucault “drew attention to less institutionalized, more pervasive and more everyday forms of power,” and James Scott “drew attention to less organized, more pervasive, and more everyday forms of resistance” (175). Ortner criticizes many studies of resistance for their “ethnographic refusal”—that is, for “thinning” culture, sanitizing local politics, and “dissolving” subjects by neglecting the...

  14. 8 DOCILITY AND SELF-DISCIPLINE
    (pp. 181-201)

    Previous chapters have highlighted some ways that employment agencies, employers, and governments attempt to mold women into docile and obedient workers, and some ways that domestic workers and prospective domestic workers are implicated in the disciplining process, wittingly or not. We have also seen how domestic workers attempt to resist certain types of control, through political and legal avenues, public demonstrations, or subtler forms of protest. This chapter describes some of the ways that domestic workers impose discipline on themselves and thus helps us steer clear of either romanticizing resistance or, at the opposite extreme, portraying Filipina domestic workers as...

  15. 9 PLEASURE AND POWER
    (pp. 202-216)

    Had this book ended with a critique of institutionalized forms of power and their oppressive effect, it would have overlooked the importance of domestic workers’ efforts to resist their oppression. To regard these women simply or solely as oppressed by those “with power” is to ignore the subtler and more complex forms of power, discipline, and resistance in their everyday lives.

    There is a tendency to view the situation of domestic workers in Hong Kong in terms of broad patterns of transnational labor migration. It is easy to conclude that foreign domestic workers, recruited from powerless sectors of the Philippine...

  16. REFERENCES
    (pp. 217-234)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 235-242)