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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 #2

Archaeologies of the Belt and Road Initiative

May—August 2021

Since its announcement in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has become the main lens through which both observers and stakeholders trace China’s global footprint. Whether cheered on as a new engine of economic development in a fraught and increasingly unequal world or frowned upon as a masterplan through which the Chinese authorities are attempting to establish global hegemony, the infrastructure component of the BRI has become such an important frame in discussions of Global China that less tangible aspects that are not in its purview tend to be lost or overlooked.

One of these neglected dimensions is China’s long history of international engagement aimed at building economic, political, social, and cultural ties in both the Global North and the Global South. Frequently, we tend to forget how the international presence of Chinese actors we are currently observing did not just happen overnight, but was built on decades of experience of China’s interaction with the rest of the world.

In the belief that examining these historical precedents can help us shed light on both the continuities and the discontinuities in the practices of today and that only by digging into the dirt of history can we excavate the roots of the dynamics we are witnessing, this issue of the Made in China Journal is dedicated to the ‘archaeologies of the BRI’.

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Xinjiang Year Zero

Since 2017, the Chinese authorities have detained hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities in ‘reeducation camps’ in China’s northwestern Xinjiang autonomous region. While the official reason for this mass detention was to prevent terrorism, the campaign has since become a wholesale attempt to remould the ways of life of these peoples—an […]

Proletarian China: A Century of Chinese Labour

In 2021, the Chinese Communist Party celebrated a century of existence. Since the Party’s humble beginnings in the Marxist groups of the Republican era to its current global ambitions, one thing has not changed for China’s leaders: their claim to represent the vanguard of the Chinese working class. Spanning from the night classes for workers […]

Issue #1

Then and Now

Looking Back and Imagining the Future of Chinese Civil Society

January—April 2021

In the spring of 2021, China’s central authorities issued a policy that seeks to change norms of China’s civil society that have been established over the past thirty years. At a moment that portends a closing of space for unregistered NGOs and a possible shift in the ways NGOs can emerge, evolve, and cooperate with other social and state entities, we thought it important to look back to revisit the development of China’s civil society over the past decades. Not only is this exercise important in enabling us to understand the shifts now taking place, but it also reminds us of the possibilities that once were, and the possible futures that may be. With this issue we wanted to bring together practitioners, whose experience of running or participating in organisations and initiatives is invaluable both in and of itself but also in helping us to reflect. We sought to bring their insights together with those of scholars who also have a deep interest, and often practical experience, in China’s organised civil society, studying its different aspects and dynamics. We hoped, too, to capture something of the vibrant diversity of organised civil society during its early (re-)emergence in the 1990s and to remember, as best we could, some of the early pioneers and possibilities.

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Issue #3

The Chinese Worker Goes Abroad

September—December 2020

China’s increased global engagements in recent years have been the source of unending controversies. While public attention generally focuses on geopolitical, economic, or even environmental issues, labour also plays an important part in emerging narratives surrounding the ‘spectre of global China’.

The media in countries that have received a significant influx of investment from mainland China has often complained about ‘invasions’ of Chinese workers, who are allegedly snatching away job opportunities from local workers. In many places, there are pervasive rumours that Chinese workers are nothing less than convicted felons sent abroad by the Party-State to expiate their crimes, which would explain why they seem to work without interruption day and night, at a pace that some believe no free person would deem acceptable. This has also led to concerns that workers from China are playing an important role in driving down labour standards in countries where institutions are weak and legal enforcement lacking. Inflows of Chinese workers have also been associated with surges in crime and prostitution that supposedly have wrought havoc on local communities.

In the best of circumstances, these narratives flatten the figure of the Chinese worker abroad into that of an agent unwittingly promoting the agenda of the Chinese Party-State abroad; in the worst, they frame these overseas Chinese labourers as criminals. In so doing, the complex dilemmas that these workers face, their inner conflicts, and the rights violations that they themselves are subjected to go unnoticed.

This issue challenges these prejudices and provides some glimpses into the subjectivities and the plight of Chinese workers toiling abroad today.

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Issue #2

Spectral Revolutions

Occult Economies in Asia

May–August 2020

‘The most Gothic description of Capital is also the most accurate. Capital is an abstract parasite, an insatiable vampire and zombie-maker; but the living flesh it converts into dead labor is ours, and the zombies it makes are us. There is a sense in which it simply is the case that the political elite are our servants; the miserable service they provide from us is to launder our libidos, to obligingly re-present for us our disavowed desires as if they had nothing to do with us.’

Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism (2009)

 

Ghostly analogies drawn from the gothic imaginary are common in the Marxist canon, with the most famous case in point being the incipit of Marx and Engels’s Manifesto of the Communist Party, where readers are told that ‘the spectre of communism’ is haunting Europe. Far from being considered curious aberrations, these preternatural metaphors have given rise to a whole literature on spectral capitalism that spans to our present stage of late capitalism. In the 1980s, Aihwa Ong made waves with her study of spirit possessions on the shop floors of modern factories in Malaysia, in which she argued that these spectres represented a form of resistance by workers otherwise powerless in the face of capital. In another instance from the 1990s, Jean and John Comaroff introduced the idea of ‘occult economies’ to make sense of the wave of episodes in which real or imagined magical means were deployed in pursuit of material gains that occurred in South Africa after the end of apartheid. While both conceptualisations received a fair share of criticism—not least for presenting the ghosts of capitalism as dreams and the anthropologist as the psychoanalyst instead of dealing with the proper social and historical context of these phenomena—this issue of the Made in China Journal cuts the Gordian knot by focusing on how individuals in China and other contexts in Asia live and interact with the supernatural. In some cases, ghosts, fortune-tellers, shamans, sorcerers, zombies, corpse brides, and aliens merely assist people to get by and cope with the difficulties they face in their daily lives; in others, these beings play subversive roles, undermining the rules that underpin contemporary society. In both cases, they challenge the status quo, hence the title ‘spectral revolutions’.

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Table of Contents

Shared Module: Framing Scholarship on Contemporary China

This shared module covers a number of topics of fundamental importance for how we think and talk about China today. It begins with a number of readings on conceptual and methodological framing, calling for China to be understood in a global and comparative perspective and for increased awareness of our own ideological positioning. This is […]

Work: Democratise, Decommodify, Remediate

The Made in China Journal is happy to join other 36 newspapers in 32 countries in publishing this urgent call by more than 3,000 researchers from universities around the globe to heed the lessons of the Covid-19 crisis and rewrite the rules of our economic systems in order to create a more democratic and sustainable […]

Issue #1

The Work of Arts

Aesthetics and Subaltern Politics in China

January–April 2020

‘Art must not be concentrated in dead shrines called museums. It must be spread everywhere—on the streets, in the trams, factories, workshops, and in the workers’ homes.’

Vladimir Mayakovsky, 1918

 

With these words, the great Soviet poet addressed the key question of how to bring art to people and people to art in a new world in which old aristocracies, elites, and their aesthetic privileges were fading away. In the words of art theorist Boris Groys, ‘the world promised by the leaders of the October Revolution was not merely supposed to be a more just one or one that would provide greater economic security, but it was also and in perhaps in even greater measure meant to be beautiful.’ Walking in these steps, the Chinese Revolution was a project of further experimentation and creation in the realm of the relationship between art and the people. The world it created was at once utopian and disfigured, radiant and desolate. While today that world is no longer, the questions it raised about the relationship between the working class, artistic production, and aesthetic appreciation remain with us.

This issue of the Made in China Journal offers a collection of essays that examine the ‘work of arts’, intended as the extension of art beyond the confines of the museum and into the spaces of ordinary life and production.

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Table of Contents

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. […]

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