From Dormitory System to Conciliatory Despotism

For the past three decades, China’s export-led manufacturing model has been built on extensive exploitation of its migrant workforce under a despotic labour regime. Draconian controls persist, and it is easy to view both Chinese migrant workers and the ways employers subordinate them as static and unchanging. Yet the situation of China’s migrants has undergone […]

Class and Precarity in China: A Contested Relationship

The increasing precariousness of labour forces globally has prompted some to argue that a new ‘precariat’ is emerging to challenge the privileges of the securely employed ‘salariat’. This divergence within the working class has been depicted as more significant than the traditional conflict between labour and capital. This essay examines these discussions in China, where precarity is increasingly being employed as a theoretical tool to explain the fragmentation of labour in the country.

A Genealogy of Precarity and Its Ambivalence

Focussing on the conceptual evolution of precarious labour over the past three decades, this essay provides a genealogy of the notion of precarity. On the eve of the fourth industrial revolution, when precarity has become the norm and fears of a jobless society have alimented a dystopian imaginary for the future, this historical reconstruction seeks to identify those elements that have shaped the material conditions of workers as well as influenced their capacity of endurance in times of growing uncertainty.

Counting Contention

In the past few years, a growing number of academics and activists have launched projects aimed at counting contention in the realm of Chinese labour. This essay explores the power and limitations of such efforts, detailing the inevitable data problems involved in any quantitative approach to documenting protests in China. It also examines the ethics involved in how we collect such data and the questions we ask of it.

Migrants, Mass Arrest, and Resistance in Contemporary China

In today’s China, migrant workers are commonly perceived as criminals. This essay examines how this bias is reflected in mechanisms of crime control, as well as in the judicial and correctional systems. It also looks into the strategies adopted by migrants to cope with this kind of discrimination by the law enforcement bodies.

Snapshots of China’s ‘Uncivil Society’

Under the leadership of Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party has reinvigorated its attempts to eradicate detrimental ‘Western ideas’. This has resulted in the assertion that civil society is nothing more than a concept, if not a trap set by the West. In practice, however, this effort has led to the emergence of a very different—uncivil—type of society.

Media Politics in China: Improvising Power under Authoritarianism, a Conversation with Maria Repnikova

Maria Repnikova’s new book Media Politics in China: Improvising Power Under Authoritarianism (Cambridge University Press, 2017) challenges conventional understandings of the role of critical journalists in authoritarian regimes, painting a picture of reporting in China as a balancing act of creativity, experimentation, and restriction. We spoke with her.

Collecting the Red Era in Contemporary China

Since the 1980s the Chinese Communist Party has condemned the Cultural Revolution as ‘ten years of chaos’. Nevertheless, so far there has been very little discussion on the topic in the public sphere in China. This essay looks into how private collections of red relics can be used to confront this void in China’s recent past. It argues that collected objects play a much more complex role in history production than we may think, as they contribute to the construction of narratives, put forth counter-narratives, and fragment the very idea of historical narrative altogether.

Ai Weiwei’s #Refugees: A Transcultural and Transmedia Journey

After spending years advocating for human and civil rights in China, Ai Weiwei is now employing his artistic abilities and his sizeable social media presence to sensitise the West to the plight of the refugees who attempt to reach Europe from the Middle East and Africa. In doing so, he is putting European governments rather than the Chinese state ‘on trial’ while adding a ‘transcultural’ dimension to his work. Still, even his most recent endeavours stem from the same philosophy he has espoused throughout his career.

In the Shadow of Kem Ley: Is Civil Society the Solution to Cambodia’s Woes?

The assassination of political analyst Kem Ley in Phnom Penh in July 2016 suggests that civil society touches a nerve of great sensibility in today’s Cambodia. Cambodian democracy is currently experiencing its tensest period in two decades. If civil society plays a role in this context, it is not primarily within the traditional confines of the associational realm. Rather, in looking for a civil society challenge to party politics, we will have to shift our attention away from NGOs to the tentative emergence of social movements and to the fledgling grassroots democracy movement which Kem Ley himself spearheaded.

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