Treating What Ails the Study of Chinese Politics

For almost as long as political science has existed as a discipline, the study of Chinese politics has been afflicted with a chronic disease. Depending on one’s perspective, this malady’s manifestations have amounted to either neglected isolation or arrogant exceptionalism. To treat this illness, it is important to set aside any rigid orthodoxy and resort to diversity and bold experimentation.

Prospects for US-China Union Relations in the Era of Xi and Trump

In October 2013, Richard Trumka, President of the American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organisations (AFL-CIO), visited the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) to establish formal bilateral relations between unions in China and the United States. This visit signalled an historic shift in labour policy, from Cold War-style hostility to normalisation of relations. Some […]

Trade Union Reform in One-Party States: China and Vietnam Compared

This essay compares the prospects for union reform in Vietnam and China. In Vietnam, heated debates about how to reform the trade union and the industrial relations system have been ongoing ever since the government signed the now defunct Transnational Pacific Partnership Agreement. In China, on the contrary, the Chinese party-state and the official unions are taking the route of suppression of labour activism, indicating grim prospects for union reform.

Outsourcing Exploitation: Chinese and Cambodian Garment Workers Compared

In recent years, much has been written about how increasing labour costs in China are pushing investors to move labour-intensive production to other countries where wages are still low. But what does this shift in global capital trends entail for workers? How do the workforces in these new outsourcing destinations fare compared to their Chinese counterparts? In order to gain a better understanding of the human cost of this latest capital flight, this essay compares garment workers in China and Cambodia.

Liquid Labourscape: Ad Hoc Experimentation in a Chinese Special Economic Zone in Laos

Chinese-established special economic zones in Laos have been criticised as being sites of neoliberal exception, sustained by a Chinese logic of self-entrepreneurship and self-determination—or a soft version of colonial-era extraterritoriality. This essay argues that such areas are, in fact, a frontier space of post-socialist ad hoc experimentation, within which the Lao state haphazardly tests new socioeconomic and governing mechanisms under authoritarian rule in order to produce revenue and perpetuate its power over Lao citizens and territory.

Chinese Multinational Corporations in Europe: Racing to the Bottom?

The arrival of Chinese firms in Europe has elicited both excitement and anxiety. New investors with funding from the Chinese state present a challenge to an open market in crisis and to Europe’s faltering welfare capitalism model. A typical narrative depicts Chinese multinational corporations (MNCs) as exploiting institutional loopholes, and undermining local laws, regulations, and […]


In January 2017, Apple celebrated the tenth anniversary of the launch of the first model of the iPhone. After a decade, has Apple’s extraordinary profitability been coupled with any greater social responsibility? Are the Chinese workers who produce the most lucrative product in the electronics world seeing improved working and living conditions? This essay provides some answers by focussing on two issues: freedom of association and the situation of student interns.

Collective Bargaining or Universal Basic Income: Which Way Forward for Chinese Workers?

The loss of political support for collective bargaining has stripped the Chinese labour movement of one of its few unifying forces. In light of this decline, in a recent essay Eli Friedman has argued that collective bargaining should be replaced with universal basic income (UBI) as a common goal of the movement. But would UBI be able to play such a role? What may be gained or lost by mobilising around UBI? To respond to these questions, this essay compares the two strategies with regard to a number of crucial aspects.

The Mental Health Costs of Repression

Chinese civil society activists and rights-protection lawyers are experiencing unprecedented levels of repression. The relentless pressure, as well as the acts of police violence and torture, has made many fearful of the consequences of their work. This is, inevitably, taking a toll on the mental health of activists. While psychological counselling services in China have expanded in recent years, most counsellors are reluctant to work with politically sensitive clients. This essay examines the need for the human rights community in China to develop the skills to address the mental health challenges of activism.

Commons and the Right to the City in Contemporary China

This essay outlines the development of Dongxiaokou, an urban village on the outskirts of Beijing that until recently was home to a massive population of migrant workers. The story of Dongxiaokou provides insights into the process of commodification of land in China, highlighting the tension between land used as a common resource by migrants, and land utilised as a way to produce economic profits for real estate developers.

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