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

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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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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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 […]

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