The Made in China Journal is a forum that seeks to facilitate critical discussion and engagement with a broad international audience on topics related to labour, civil society, and rights in contemporary China.

China’s Threats to Academic Freedom Abroad

Fears of China’s growing threat to academic freedom have heightened worldwide. On 30 October, the Belgian authorities denied a residence permit to Song Xinning, former director of the Confucius Institute at the Vrije Universiteit in Brussels, making it impossible for him to return to his job or enter any other country in the Schengen area. […]

Lest We Forget: The Missing Chinese Activists of 2019

With the year 2019 coming to an end, we bring to you the faces and stories of some of those labour and feminist activists currently under detention without trial in China. A considerably longer comprehensive list, including dozens who remain detained or unaccounted for, can be found on this website. These are just some of […]

Human Rights Activists under Assault

In the last quarter of 2019, China’s treatment of human rights activists remained worrisome. On 17 October, Sophia Huang Xueqin, a prominent activist and independent journalist that played an important role in China’s #MeToo movement, was detained in Guangzhou after reporting on protests in Hong Kong. She was then transferred to ‘residential surveillance in a […]

Elections and More Mass Demonstrations in Hong Kong

In the last quarter of 2019, protests in Hong Kong did not show any sign of abating. On 1 October, China’s National Day, the city was shaken by the biggest demonstration since the protests began in late April. Shortly afterwards, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam invoked colonial-era emergency powers to ban face masks, which […]

Issue #3

Bless You, Prison

Experiences of Detention in China

July–September 2019

Bless you prison, bless you for being in my life. For there, lying upon the rotting prison straw, I came to realise that the object of life is not prosperity as we are made to believe, but the maturity of the human soul.

Alexandr I. Solzhenitsyn

The Gulag Archipelago (1918-1956)

With these words, Soviet star dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn exalted the transformative role of the gulag—where he had been imprisoned for eight years—in reconfiguring his soul. Just like his account of life in the labour camps played a fundamental role in shaping public perceptions of the Soviet labour camps, our views of the Chinese detention system are also widely shaped by the writings and testimonies of former political prisoners, whether victims of the mass campaigns of the Mao era or more recent crackdowns against dissident voices. Reading these accounts, detention easily assumes the tragic connotations of martyrdom, and detainees come to be surrounded by a halo of heroism. But what about those uncountable prisoners who are detained for common crimes or less-noble causes? What about the reality of murderers, thieves, drug addicts, and prostitutes? Is prison a blessing for them too?

This issue of the Made in China Journal aims to provide a more balanced account of Chinese experiences of detention by examining situations as diverse as reeducation camps in Xinjiang, forced detox camps for drug addicts, involuntary hospitalisation of people with mental health problems, the contested legacies of labour camps from the Maoist past, and the latest reforms in the fields of Chinese criminal justice. Such grim analyses are also key to understanding the upheavals that are currently taking place in Hong Kong. We should not forget that the popular mobilisations of these past months began in response to attempts by the Hong Kong authorities to pass an extradition bill that would have established a new case-by-case model to transfer fugitives to any jurisdiction that the former British colony lacks a formal agreement with, including mainland China. Reading the accounts included in this issue of the journal, it is not difficult to understand why this became a flashpoint.

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Ilham Tohti Awarded the Sakharov Prize and Other Updates on Xinjiang

Situations in Xinjiang continued to draw international attention in the fourth quarter of 2019. On 24 October, Ilham Tohti, a vocal Uyghur professor who in 2014 was sentence to life imprisonment for ‘separatism’, was awarded Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament, which subsequently went on to adopt a resolution on the […]

Multinational Corporations in the Crosshairs

Western multinational corporations have increasingly found themselves in the crosshairs of the Chinese Communist Party. In the second week of October, the US National Basketball Association became embroiled in a predicament after Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted his support for the ongoing pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong. In the wake of […]

Protests Continue Unabated in Hong Kong

Mass protests in Hong Kong, initially sparked by the local government’s proposal to allow the extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China, have shown no sign of abating in the third quarter of 2019. Following the city’s largest-ever demonstration on 16 June and the storming of the city’s legislature by an aggressive group of protestors […]

Issue #2

Under Construction

Visions of Chinese Infrastructure

April–June 2019

We shall sing the great masses shaken with work, pleasure, or rebellion: we shall sing the multicolored and polyphonic tidal waves of revolution in the modern metropolis; shall sing the vibrating nocturnal fervor of factories and shipyards burning under violent electrical moons; bloated railroad stations that devour smoking serpents; factories hanging from the sky by the twisting threads of spiraling smoke; bridges like gigantic gymnasts who span rivers, flashing at the sun with the gleam of a knife; adventurous steamships that scent the horizon, locomotives with their swollen chest, pawing the tracks like massive steel horses bridled with pipes, and the oscillating flight of airplanes, whose propeller flaps at the wind like a flag and seems to applaud like a delirious crowd.

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti,

The Manifesto of Futurism (1909, translated by R.W. Flint)

Although the smoking serpents of erstwhile have been replaced by the sinuous lines of aseptic high-speed trains, and steamships have long disappeared from the horizon, these words penned by an Italian poet at the beginning of the twentieth century are a surprisingly apt description of the infrastructural frenzy that has overcome China in recent history.

Rushing to catch up after the political turmoil of the twentieth century, over the past four decades the Chinese authorities have been remoulding the urban and rural landscapes in the service of economic growth. Starting from the township and village enterprises and special economic zones of the 1980s, factories have sprung up everywhere in China, boosting a new industrial revolution that has carried the country’s economic miracle well into this century. This was before the Party-state decided that it was time to launch a new green tidal wave of revolution in the now-postmodern metropolis, in an attempt to sever the pillars of spiralling smoke that used to link these plants to the sky (but in so doing, also forcing an entire working class to set their eyes to the ground).

New highways and high-speed railways now crisscross the country, enabling the great masses shaken with work, pleasure, and (little) rebellion to travel with an ease and a speed never experienced before. Bridges of unprecedented length span rivers and seas, bringing together places and people that do not always desire to be connected. If there is a place where the futurist utopia of the early twentieth century has come to fruition, it is China. It is to this infrastructural fever that we dedicate this issue of the Made in China Journal.

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Repression in Xinjiang Garners International Attention

In the third quarter of 2019, the ongoing deterioration of the situation in Xinjiang continued to make waves on the international stage. According to the Xinhua News Agency, on 2 July, during a trip to China, Turkish President Erdogan told Xi Jinping that ‘residents of all ethnicities in China’s Xinjiang are living happily’, though Turkish […]

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