This article elaborates on the unmaking of the peasant classes among the tu er dai 土二代 (peasant landlords), with a particular focus on their claims to contested wealth through rent-seeking and other accumulative practices in Guangzhou's urban villages. E. P. Thompson's classic text, The Making of the English Working Class (1963), demonstrates the formation of class consciousness as historically embedded within cultural meanings, qualitative conditions of industrialization, and agency of the working people. The case of the tu er dai, however, lays bare how the historical unmaking of the Maoist peasant classes entails the emaciation of rural populations, as Yan Hairong has described, through the intensified extraction and exploitation of the migrant classes. The tu er dai is a place-based group of former peasants who have quickly elevated to the rentier class thanks to their collective possession of use rights to village land. By remaining suspended between the spatial and subjective designations of the rural and the urban, village members find themselves strategically stalling negotiations with the municipal government in the selling of their use rights via the corporate lineage. Meanwhile, they intensify the predatory extraction of rent and fees from migrant laborers so as to navigate the dilemmas associated with state-endorsed projects of displacement and development. The seemingly paradoxical identifications of the peasant landlords as both rural and urban citizens, though not wholly one or the other, cast light on their patchy, place-based strategies of accumulation, as they increasingly sever their sources of livelihood from their collective land and become incorporated into the urban core.

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