Global Cinderellas

Migrant Domestics and Newly Rich Employers in Taiwan

Global Cinderellas

Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: 13 b&w photos Published: April 2006

Author: Pei-Chia Lan

Asian Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Sociology > Migration Studies

Migrant women are the primary source of paid domestic labor around the world. Since the 1980s, the newly prosperous countries of East Asia have recruited foreign household workers at a rapidly increasing rate. Many come from the Philippines and Indonesia. Pei-Chia Lan interviewed and spent time with dozens of Filipina and Indonesian domestics working in and around Taipei as well as many of their Taiwanese employers. On the basis of the vivid ethnographic detail she collected, Lan provides a nuanced look at how boundaries between worker and employer are maintained and negotiated in private households. She also sheds light on the fate of the workers, “global Cinderellas” who seek an escape from poverty at home only to find themselves treated as disposable labor abroad.

Lan demonstrates how economic disparities, immigration policies, race, ethnicity, and gender intersect in the relationship between the migrant workers and their Taiwanese employers. The employers are eager to flex their recently acquired financial muscle; many are first-generation career women as well as first-generation employers. The domestics are recruited from abroad as contract and “guest” workers; restrictive immigration policies prohibit them from seeking permanent residence or transferring from one employer to another. They care for Taiwanese families’ children, often having left their own behind. Throughout Global Cinderellas, Lan pays particular attention to how the women she studied identify themselves in relation to “others”—whether they be of different classes, nationalities, ethnicities, or education levels. In so doing, she offers a framework for thinking about how migrant workers and their employers understand themselves in the midst of dynamic transnational labor flows.


Global Cinderellas is well-written. The vivid descriptions, excellent literary style, personal voice, and individual quotations in the narratives make the reader feel almost like a witness to the ethnographic study. Students of women’s studies, Asian studies, sociology, and international labor migration will find this book to be illuminating.” — Okori A. Uneke, International Social Science Review

“[A] detailed study by a Taiwanese feminist scholar using interviews and vivid ethnographic detail. It provides a nuanced look at the boundaries between workers and employers in a changing Taiwan.” — Wendy Harcourt, International Feminist Journal of Politics

“[A] valuable aspect of this book is that the author correctly points to the social and cultural significance of migrant workers in an Asian or a global context.” — Cheng-Yuan Liu, The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology

“[T]he book is a major contribution to contemporary research in the relevant areas, including globalization. Its feminist outlook is radical, yet pays attention to the incredible difficulty for involved parties that are willing to undo the inequalities unfolding in the space of the private home. It may be used to compare other proliferating ‘maid economies’ in places like Hong
Kong, Singapore, and the Gulf region.” — Ann Vogel, Sociology

“[T]his book [is] a fine intellectual exercise of combining theory with social advocacy. It deserves reading from scholars of international migration, class, and gender.” — Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao, Contemporary Sociology

“[T]his book is a tremendously valuable teaching tool. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed this intriguing and timely book. Lan eloquently weaves the stories of domestic workers and their employers in an extremely engaging style. Students will find it one of the more memorable texts of their university studies. I would highly recommend it for use in upper year sociology, anthropology, labour studies, and gender studies courses that examine global labour movements, globalization and exploitation.” — Lori Wilkinson, Canadian Journal of Sociology

“[The book] makes fruitful and intelligent use of what broadly might be described as transnational feminist frameworks. . . . [It] provides us with a rich portrait of the constraints and possibilities of a particular space and moment of contemporary existence.” — Leslie Salzinger, Gender & Society

“Overall, Global Cinderellas is an excellent case study on transnational labour movements.” — Wen-chen Yu, China Perspectives

“The inclusion of policy recommendations is one way among many in which this ground-breaking study enhances our understanding of the feminization of migration and the change in domestic practices that accompany globalization.” — Rosemary Haddon, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies

“This book is well written and researched, and I recommend it without reservation.” — Eric Fong, Ethnic and Racial Studies

“This engaging and readable book shows how globalization affects urban spaces and household dynamics. It will interest students and scholars of Asian Studies, Women’s Studies, Globalization, Sociology, and Anthropology, particularly those studying the cultural construction of identity and the negotiation of interpersonal power.” — Michele Ruth Gamburd, Comparative Studies in Society and History

“This is a fine and challenging ethnographic project . . . . The book is a theoretically informed, sophisticated analysis of employment relationships in the era of transnational migration. Scholars in women’s studies, and international migration and globalization will find this book insightful and informative. It is clearly written, rich in ethnographic insights, and accessible to both undergraduate and graduate students in social sciences and Asian studies.” — Ping-Chun Hsiung, Labour/Le Travail

“This is a most unusual academic book. Well argued, meticulously researched and theoretically literate, it is also extremely readable and written with a profound humanity.” — Delia Davin, The China Quarterly

"This book makes an important contribution to the literature on temporarily migrant or guest worker programs, and to a wider feminist literature on the global migration of domestic workers. It is nicely written and a pleasure to read, easily accessible to undergraduate students.” — Geraldine Pratt, Journal of International Migration and Integration

“This path-breaking study illustrates how boundaries—of race, class, gender, and citizenship—are imposed on migrant domestic workers. Pei-Chia Lan’s use of boundary-making as the lens through which to analyze the integration of migrant domestic workers is a very important contribution to the burgeoning field of the feminization of migration. This is a brilliant book.” — Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, author of Children of Global Migration: Transnational Families and Gendered Woes

“We might imagine that the more contact we have with others across the globe the closer our social bonds. But, as Pei-Chia Lan so ably shows, we would be sadly wrong about that. In some ways the madams of Taiwan are ‘close’ to their maids from the Philippines, but in other ways they are very distant from them. Indeed, in some cases the closer we are, the more distant. Just how this works out is the subject of this clearly written, trenchantly argued, hugely important, must-read book.” — Arlie Russell Hochschild, coeditor of Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Pei-Chia Lan is Associate Professor of Sociology at National Taiwan University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Figures and Tables ix

Preface xi

A Note on Style xv

Introduction 1

A Bounded Global Market 29

Disdained Aliens, Stratified Others 59

Jealous Madams and Anxious Mothers 94

Crossing Borders and Gender Divides 125

Cinderella with a Mobile Phone 160

Eat, Drink, Masters and Servants 199

Conclusion 237

Appendices 251

Notes 259

References 277

Index 297
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Winner, 2007 Distinguished Book Award, American Sociological Association, Sex and Gender Section

Winner, 2007 International Convention of Asian Scholars Best Book Prize for a study in social science.

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3742-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3730-0
Publicity material