Mainlanders’ Nostalgic Writing in Taiwan: Memory, Identification, and Politics

After the Kuomintang was defeated by the Chinese Communist Party in 1949, about 1.5 million people followed the Nationalist government to Taiwan. This marked the beginning of four decades of social separation across the Taiwan Strait, in a political standoff that lasts to this day. Over the years, civil war exiles in Taiwan produced much nostalgic writing. This essay examines the evolution of these texts from the 1950s to the 2010s, exploring the authors’ narratives of China in relation to the concept of ‘homeland’.

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‘The Mine Was Our Home’: Narrativising Nostalgia between Socialist and Post-Socialist Mining Zones

At a Chinese-owned fluorspar mine in Mongolia, one group of workers stood out from the rest. Their life stories—often narrated with a tinge of nostalgia for home and a golden age of industrial labour—were closely intertwined with fluorspar. Joining them on an annual trip from their workplace to their once fluorspar-rich hometown in Jiangxi Province […]

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Ambivalent Nostalgia: Commemorating Zhiqing in the Jianchuan Museum Complex

Zhiqing, an abbreviation for zhishi qingnian (‘educated youth’), refers to the nearly 18 million urban young people, most with elementary to high-school education, whom the Chinese Communist Party sent to live and work in China’s rural areas between 1968 and 1980. Since the early 1990s, official and unofficial museum commemorations of the zhiqing generation have articulated a pervasive nostalgia marked by narratives of a ‘zhiqing spirit’ that celebrate qualities of perseverance, patriotism, and self-sacrifice. This essay examines the Museum of Zhiqing Lives in the Jianchuan Museum Complex, China’s most high-profile private museum project and home to the largest collection of Maoist artefacts.

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Johnnie Got His Gun, While Liang Took Up the Plough: Nostalgia in the United States and China, Then and Now

This essay examines the nostalgic pragmatism of the reformer and Confucian philosopher Liang Shuming (1893–1988). Liang’s responses to the social and economic dislocations of the early Republican era, including a series of concrete steps to ameliorate them, are surprisingly relevant to the spiralling cycles of racism and violence afflicting US society in the twenty-first century. His diagnosis of the harms of industrial society and prescription for restoring the moral as well as physical health of rural populations remain valid both for China and for the United States—in particular, with regard to addressing climate change and its attendant psychophysical trauma known as solastalgia.

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Newborn Socialist Things: A Conversation with Laurence Coderre

I recently participated in an event on ‘Socialist Stuff’ hosted by Stanford’s materia working group. Fittingly, it featured all the technical difficulties typical of hybrid in-person/remote gatherings, but we nonetheless muddled through in pursuit of a productive alchemy between Jacqueline Loss’s work on Cuba and mine on China (Loss 2013; Loss and Prieto 2012). I […]

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Magic, Religion, and the Naturalisation of Chinese Communist Party Rule

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has developed strategies that draw on a dedication to the Party that is specifically religious yet does not require belief in a doctrine. These strategies revolve around the Leninist concept of ‘party spirit’, which, paradoxically, has become a commodity that is produced, supplied, and consumed. This essay discusses these strategies […]

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From Grassroots Nostalgia to Official Memory: Red Relics in Contemporary China

Collections of ‘Red relics’—objects relating to the history of the Chinese Communist Party—were initially understood primarily as a form of grassroots nostalgia for the supposed purity and equality of the Mao era and a reaction against the changes of the reform era. This essay argues that in recent years, these objects—particularly those from the revolutionary, pre-1949 period—have been increasingly coopted into the Party’s narrative about the rejuvenation of China under its leadership.

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On Nostalgia and Returns

Amid a global pandemic and worsening repression in contemporary China, what does it mean to be nostalgic? This essay explores this question through two disparate but intimately connected lenses. First, it examines changing registers of nostalgia in China over the past several decades, analysing the role of the Party-State and how it is imagined in their production. Second, it examines what nostalgia might mean for scholars who study state–society relations and the production of nostalgia in China, when they confront the potential of not being able to return to China to conduct research, and the ethics of that research should they continue to engage.

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Everything Is Different, but Nothing Has Changed: 
The Past Decade for China’s Workers

Over the past decade, dramatic economic, social, and technological changes have affected the landscape of workers’ rights in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). But what did these transformations entail for China’s workers? In a recently released report entitled ‘Reimagining Workers’ Rights in China’ (CLB 2022d), we took a worker-centred approach to answering this question […]

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China’s Ratification of the ILO Forced Labour Conventions: A Hollow Gesture?

There was a lukewarm welcome from the international community to China’s announcement in April 2022 that it would ratify the International Labour Organization’s two forced labour conventions: the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) and the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105). Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Guy Ryder’s statement that […]

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