The Legacy of May Fourth in China, a Century Later

This essay is part of a joint series presented by Jacobin and the Made in China Journal, which aims to elaborate a series of coherent critiques of contemporary China from a leftist perspective.   In March, graduate students at Peking University (Beida) were given a survey on ‘the conditions of the development of university students’ […]

Hooligan Sparrow: A Conversation with Wang Nanfu

After her return to China in June 2013, Wang Nanfu, a postgraduate from New York University, trained her camera on Ye Haiyan, an activist for sex workers (see Tiantian Zheng’s essay in this issue). In Hainan province, she filmed Ye’s protests against the sexual assault of several primary school girls by their principal, and the […]

Illiberal China: A Conversation with Daniel Vukovich

Over the past decade, Western depictions of China have either held up the country’s political culture as a model or demonised it as a danger to liberal societies. But how do mainland politics and discourses challenge ‘our’ own, chiefly liberal and anti-‘statist’ political frameworks? To what extent is China paradoxically intertwined with a liberal economism? […]

Once Upon a Time in China: Lu Zhixiang’s Sketches of Shanghai’s Society in the 1930s

Cartoon master Lu Zhixiang’s artistic production offers notable glimpses into timeless aspects of Shanghai’s metropolitan modernisation in the 1930s, providing particular insight into the plight of the underclasses. In this essay, Martina Caschera argues that Lu’s work is not only particularly representative of the ideal approach to artistic creation strongly upheld by leftist intellectuals in that epoch, but can also be useful as we reflect on the social dynamics of present-day China.

A Road to Forgetting: Friendship and Memory in China’s Belt and Road Initiative

A new Sino-Kazakh coproduction recounts the time that celebrated Chinese musician Xian Xinghai spent in Kazakhstan in the early 1940s, focussing on the friendship between the artist and a local composer named Bakhitzhan Baykadamov. While the movie intends to celebrate the renewed friendship between China and the former Soviet republic under the auspices of Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative, it also serves a darker purpose: to obfuscate the reality of the mass detention of ethnic Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and Kyrgyz in ‘reeducation camps’ in Xinjiang.

Descending into Debt in Cambodia

Cambodia today is the site of one of the world’s largest microcredit sectors. While it is widely believed that the extension of microcredit to Cambodia’s poor should be cause for all-round celebration, this essay reveals disquieting evidence of a deeply problematic development intervention. Indebted to microcredit institutions, increasing numbers of Cambodia’s poor population have been forced to accept exploitative labour conditions in the garment and construction industry, driven to despair due to the loss of their land, and, in the worst cases, had no choice but to ‘sell’ themselves as bonded labour to brick kilns owners.

Queer History, Culture, and Activism in China: A Conversation with He Xiaopei

He Xiaopei is a leading queer feminist filmmaker, activist, and director of Pink Space (粉色空间), a Beijing-based NGO dedicated to promoting sexual rights and gender equality. Her films include The Lucky One (宠儿, 2012), Our Marriages: Lesbians Marry Gay Men (奇缘一生, 2013), Yvo and Chrissy (如此生活, 2017), and Playmates (玩伴, 2019). As one of China’s […]

Accidental Activists: The Resistance of the ‘709’ Wives

The crackdown of 9 July 2015 saw hundreds of lawyers and legal activists called in by the police or official lawyers’ associations for questioning. While many were released in a matter of hours or days, a number disappeared into China’s system of ‘residential surveillance in a designated location’. In this essay, Nicola Macbean details how the wives of these lawyers have coped with the detention of their husbands and how they have been experimenting with new forms of campaigning that draw strength from Chinese tradition.

The Plight of Sex Workers in China: From Criminalisation and Abuse to Activism

To this day, the Chinese Party-state perceives sex work as a violation of the human rights of women. Therefore, the Chinese authorities believe that sex workers need to be rescued and reeducated, and regularly subject them to periodic crackdowns and long spells of detention in ‘rehabilitation education centres’. In this essay, Tiantian Zheng highlights how policies of this kind have not only fuelled violence, exploitation, abuse, and health risks among Chinese sex workers, but have also had terrible consequences for public health in China.

Global Connections: Chinese Feminism, Tibet, and Xinjiang

While the Chinese feminist movement is good at making international connections and is characterised by an explicit concern for intersectionality, it generally overlooks how experiences of gender and ethnicity in China overlap in complex and often brutal ways. In this essay, Séagh Kehoe looks into the plight of women and ethnic minorities in the borderland areas of Tibet and Xinjiang, and argues for increased attention and social mobilisation from abroad to address these issues.

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