Can the Creative Subaltern Speak? Dafen Village Painters, Van Gogh, and the Politics of ‘True Art’

Migrant workers’ artistic aspirations develop within the broader tension between Art as a high-brow, big-money, critically-endorsed global enterprise, and art as the creativity of the everyday. As shown by the case of Dafen village’s worker painters, in today’s China the creative subaltern has become the focus of celebratory state-promoted narratives and investments and, more critically, transnational media and academic investigations. However, despite this newly-acquired visibility, this kind of creative work remains largely excluded from global art circles, as well as the industry’s cash flow and critical appraisals, and continues to be defined by the condition of the artists as localised migrant workers.

Download PDF

Towards a Partisan Aesthetics: Zhou Yang, Chernyshevsky, and ‘Life’

This essay seeks to excavate a Maoist politics of ‘life’ as the grounds for a new, proletarian aesthetics and as a counterpoint to the biologisation of life under authoritarian state formations. It does so through a reading of Mao Zedong’s 1942 Yan’an Talks and their demands that intellectuals immerse themselves in the life of the masses via the theoretical role of Zhou Yang. In doing so, it seeks to suggest answers to the question: how might we conceive of a non-fascist life under late capitalism?

Download PDF

From Rebellion to Erasure: The Rise and Fall of Urban Folk Rocker Li Zhi

In the summer of 2019, underground rock subculture became an overnight sensation in China through a talent show called ‘Summer of Bands’ (乐队的夏天). What is notable about this resurgence is the role that the Party-state played in it. The quest of the Chinese authorities for soft power and cultural legitimacy, aimed at ‘[winning] the hearts […]

Download PDF

World Factory

The decade from roughly 2005 to 2015 might one day prove to have been one of those distinctive periods in Chinese social, political, and cultural history—one with clear demarcations marking its before and after, a time of possibilities explored and foreclosed, when other futures could have been imagined. Unlike the 1980s, with its burst of […]

Download PDF

Poetry after the Future

In this essay, Sorace reads migrant-worker poetry alongside Marx to index the trace of a different future in the exploitation and alienation of the present. Worker poets write about lost youth, severed fingers, irregular periods, and labour congealed in commodities for export. The future promised by communism has been erased by a seemingly eternal capitalist present. To dream again requires new acts of poetic and political imagination.

Download PDF

From Africa to Saipan: What Happens When Chinese Construction Firms ‘Go Global’?

For the past several years, I have been deeply engaged with a case involving the exploitation of thousands of Chinese workers by Chinese construction firms on the island of Saipan—part of the United States Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). This essay explores the extent to which Professor Ching Kwan Lee’s findings and conclusions […]

Download PDF

A Proletarian Nora: Discussing Fan Yusu

In 2017, migrant worker Fan Yusu became an overnight sensation in China after publishing her memoir online. Despite the fact that she has produced several more literary works, her artistic production is seldom considered from a literary perspective. To fill this gap, this essay endeavours to analyse some of the main elements that shape Fan’s output, arguing that it is an exemplar of contemporary working-class literature.

Download PDF

Risk: The Hidden Power of Art Creation

Performance artists have been subjecting their bodies to physical ordeals, risk, and even the possibility of death. In this essay, Cai Qing introduces famous examples of performance art in China and abroad that entailed violence done to the body. Under China’s authoritarian model of capitalism, the body is subject to numerous cross-cutting disciplinary forces; to invent something new, the performance artist must jump into the unknown.

Download PDF

The End of Sweatshops? Robotisation and the Making of New Skilled Workers in China

In the past few years, the Chinese labour market has experienced a transition from surplus to shortage of labour, which has led to increased wages for ordinary workers. In such a context, since 2015 the Chinese authorities have pursued a policy of industrial upgrading based on the robotisation of the manufacturing sector. This essay explores the impact of such rapid-employ, large-scale robotisation on labour relations in Chinese factories.

Download PDF

Subscribe to Made in China

Made in China publications are open access and always available as a free download. To subscribe to email alerts for each issue of the Journal, newly published books, and information about upcoming events, please provide your contact information below.

Back to Top