Drawing on insights from critical citizenship studies and governmentality studies, this article explores and theorizes the changing mobility regime in China and its centerpiece, the household registration (hukou) system, from a global comparative perspective. First, we conceptualize the hukou system within the broader problematique of the spatiality of social citizenship and show how it enables processes of boundary-making that are comparable to the policing of the migrant poor in pre-welfare-state Europe and the subordination of international migrant labor in the contemporary world. Second, we argue that the shifting mobility regime envisaged by the current hukou reforms and new urbanization, which moves away from the dualistic structure of inclusion/exclusion to a multiplication of legal statuses and boundaries of citizenship, embodies a neoliberal-authoritarian rationality of government. Engaging with the debate on the hybrid governmentalities of post-socialist China, we focus particularly on new techniques of mobility management in China’s first-tier cities, whose national positioning resembles that of Northern countries in the global hierarchy of power. Through examples of the point-based system and the strategy of functional dispersal, we demonstrate how these globalizing cities actively engineer a highly polarized mobility regime in their pursuit of generating globally competitive spaces. The article contributes to the critique of methodological nationalism by denaturalizing national citizenship as a pre-given point of departure in examining mobility and socio-spatial boundaries. It also offers new insights into the converging trends of neoliberal authoritarianism and authoritarian neoliberalism in governing the ‘glocal’ hierarchies of citizenship and mobility.
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