University of Leicester
2017GORDONSAPhD.pdf (4.47 MB)

China’s Hidden Children: Negotiating Documentation Denial and its Impact on a Population at Risk of Statelessness

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posted on 2017-05-15, 08:48 authored by Stephanie Anne Gordon
The definition and problematisation of statelessness has been widely debated by scholars, who contemplate the distinction between between legal (de jure) and effective (de facto) statelessness. Recent attention to the denial of documentation which affirms nationality in creating the ‘risk of statelessness’ goes some way to bridging these two conceptions, as documents both attest nationality internationally and grant access to rights reserved for citizens domestically. However, scholarship on statelessness has yet to adequately explore the effects of documentation denial on the enjoyment of rights associated with one’s nationality and legal personhood, explain why denial of documentation towards individual members within a particular group can be uneven, and the very process of negotiating documentation. This thesis addresses these issues, focusing on agency over the documentation process. Based on interviews and an online participant observation, the thesis looks at a population of roughly 30 million children who are at risk of statelessness in China due to denial of the hukou, the document that affirms nationality. I discuss how China’s fragmented, ambivalent state generates spaces for uneven documentation denial and negotiations over the hukou. These negotiations by citizens in China can be understood through Scott’s concept of ‘everyday resistance’ as parents respond to the birthing, adoption and immigration policies which underlie documentation denial. When ‘everyday resistance’ fails, ‘rightful resistance’ (O’Brien and Li) illustrates how some parents obtain documentation for their children, and through the internet can mobilise other families in similar circumstances. I argue that spaces of ambiguity can also be appropriated by individual government officials and citizens in the context of these negotiations. The thesis offers a case study in a previously unexplored group. Taken as a whole it contributes to statelessness scholarship and in particular to our understanding of agency and negotiation in the denial and acquisition of nationality documents.



Staples, Kelly; Brace, Laura

Date of award


Author affiliation

Department of Politics and International Relations

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD


The author has removed some images from the electronic version of this thesis due to copyright restrictions. The unabridged version can be consulted, on request, at the University of Leicester Library.



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