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.

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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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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Orwell in the Chinese Classroom

This is the translation of a blog post published on 1 May 2019 by an anonymous Chinese student. For obvious reasons, we were unable to confirm the identity of the writer, but the account resonates with other testimonies from students at Peking University that appeared in the public record or which we have heard personally, […]

Afterlives of Chinese Communism

Afterlives of Chinese Communism includes essays from over 50 world-renowned scholars in the China field from different disciplines and continents. It provides an indispensable guide for understanding how the intellectual legacies of the Mao era shape Chinese politics today. Each chapter discusses a concept or practice from the Mao era, what it meant in its […]

Issue #1

Smashing the Bell Jar

Shades of Gender in China

January–March 2019

Sun and moon have no light left, earth is dark; / Our women’s world is sunk so deep, who can help us? / Jewelry sold to pay this trip across the seas, Cut off from my family I leave my native land. / Unbinding my feet I clean out a thousand years of poison, / With heated heart arouse all women’s spirits. / Alas, this delicate kerchief here / Is half stained with blood, and half with tears.

Qiu Jin, 1904 (translated by Jonathan Spence)

 

As she bode farewell to China in the summer of 1904, early revolutionary Qiu Jin penned these words to bemoan the fate of herself and of uncountable Chinese women. She was leaving behind her husband—whom she had married out of obligation—and two young children to go to study in Japan. Having returned to China, she would continue to engage in revolutionary activities, and was ultimately beheaded by the Qing authorities in July 1907 at the age of 31. Martyrdom made her into a legend. More than a century later, bound feet belong to another age and kerchieves stained with blood and tears have become an overused trope in revolutionary literature. Still, Qiu Jin’s spirit is more alive than ever in a whole new generation of Chinese feminists who are fighting for women’s rights—a renewed attempt to smash the bell jar of China’s patriarchal society. This issue of the Made in China Journal offers a series of perspectives on the plight and struggles of women and sexual minorities in today’s China.
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Made in China Yearbook 2018: Dog Days

Edited by Ivan Franceschini and Nicholas Loubere According to the Chinese zodiac, 2018 was the year of the ‘earthly dog’. In the middle of the long, hot, and feverish dog days of the summer of 2018, some workers at Shenzhen Jasic Technology took their chances and attempted to form an independent union. While this action […]

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An Open Letter from China Labour Scholars

The Chinese government has expanded its crackdown on civil society. Since 2015, hundreds of human rights lawyers, feminists, and labour activists have been harassed, detained and sentenced to prison sentences. In 2018, workers’ demands to unionise at the Shenzhen Jasic Technology Company drew the backing of left-wing students from elite universities. According to media reports, 30 […]

La panacea cinese? Una risposta al Sottosegretario Geraci

[Read the English version here]   Qualche settimana fa, il nuovo Sottosegretario allo Sviluppo Economico Michele Geraci ha pubblicato sul blog di Beppe Grillo ‘La Cina e il governo del cambiamento’, un articolo in cui espone la sua visione di una ‘più attenta politica estera ed economica rivolta alla Cina’ per ‘[aumentare] le probabilità di […]

The Chinese Panacea?

With Xi Jinping going on an official visit to Italy this Thursday and the Italian government considering the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), we felt that it was a fitting time to republish this open letter signed by 23 Italian scholars in the field of […]

Issue #4

To the Soil

The Labour of Rural Transformation in China

October–December 2018

In December 2018, the Chinese authorities commemorated the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening up. These four decades of unprecedented economic growth and transformation have been rooted in a fundamental socioeconomic restructuring. Contemporary China has changed from a largely agrarian society predominantly inhabited by peasants, to a rapidly urbanising one, characterised by a floating populace moving back and forth between rural and urban spaces, which are in a continuous state of flux. Going hand in hand with China’s ascent into modernity is the subordination of rural areas and people. While rural China has historically been a site of extraction and exploitation, in the post-reform period this has intensified, and rurality itself has become a problem. This issue of Made in China focuses on the labour that these attempts to restructure and reformulate rural China have entailed, and the ways in which they have transformed rural lives and communities.

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