Jiabiangou Elegy: A Conversation with Ai Xiaoming

Before retiring, Ai Xiaoming was a Professor in the Chinese Department at Sun Yat-sen University. She is also a feminist scholar, rights activist, and independent documentary filmmaker. In the 1980s and 1990s, Ai’s academic work focussed on modern and contemporary Chinese literature and comparative literature. In 1999, she moved to the United States for one […]

The Thai Elections of 2019: the Rise of the Illiberal Middle Classes

In early 2019, Thailand’s military junta held elections for the first time since removing the elected Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from office five years earlier. The elections took place under a new constitution, which gave the coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha an insurmountable advantage. Ironically, some of Prayuth’s strongest supporters were the same middle classes that fought in the streets for democracy in the 1990s. The result is a Thai polity that can only be described as constitutional authoritarianism.

Researching China Through Translation and Presentation

To present a research project as understandable, inoffensive, and interesting to people in the field involves both politics and artfulness. Researchers, the researched, and potential collaborators together constitute the politics of fieldwork, at the centre of which are ongoing processes to establish expectations of possible benefits or conflicts of interests. The multidimensional politics on the ground remind us to consciously and continually seek appropriate translation and presentation of our research and position while conducting fieldwork in China.

State of Sensitivity: Navigating Fieldwork in an Increasingly Authoritarian China

This essay reflects on the process of designing, conducting, and writing about fieldwork in China’s politically-sensitive environment. I draw on my experience as a foreign scholar researching the hydropower industry from 2013–18, a period of growing authoritarianism in China. I describe attempts and strategies (both successful and unsuccessful) to navigate sensitivity in framing my project, accessing and conducting interviews, and sharing results. Overall, my aim is to provide a sense of cautious optimism for early-career scholars headed into the field.

Confronting Sexual Harassment in the Field

This essay sheds light on gendered violence negotiated by researchers conducting fieldwork in China. It examines coping and resistance strategies employed by female researchers, and analyses how the female researcher’s body is disciplined in a hetero-patriarchal setting. Linking gendered field experience to the #MeToo movement in China, the essay discusses the role of academics in feminist movements and the implications for the broader civil rights issues in the Chinese context.

On Becoming a ‘Blue-eyed, Blond American Friend’

For researchers working in China, particularly foreigners, the problems of doing fieldwork as an ‘outsider’ often feel acute. However, the frustrations felt while setting up and carrying out fieldwork can distract from the more complex social dynamics that researchers are enmeshed within in the field. In particular, the ways that issues of ‘positionality’ have been theorised in feminist social science can help clarify how the impossibility of full understanding and transparency between researchers and research participants is not just limiting but also creates opportunities for knowledge production.

Punish and Cure

By drawing on the life histories of 20 former and current heroin and methadone users in Yunnan Province, this essay explores the history, the logic, and the functioning of China’s anti-drugs camps. It shows how the tight intertwining of public health and public security models to fight against drug use has given rise to a contradictory policy landscape, whereby medical support always coincides with physical violence, social exclusion, and continuous surveillance of the bodies and the movements of Chinese addicts.

Preventative Policing as Community Detention in Northwest China

A preventative policing system in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has detained as many as 1.5 million Turkic Muslims deemed ‘pre-terrorists’ or ‘extremists’. This essay shows how a counterinsurgency mode of militarism that emerged in the United States, Israel, and Europe, has been adapted as a ‘Xinjiang mode’ of community policing in China. It argues that the scale of detentions and the use of surveillance technology make the ‘Xinjiang mode’ of counterinsurgency unprecedented.

Forced Internment in Mental Health Institutions in China

In China, people with mental disorders may be committed to mental hospitals for treatment in accordance with either the Mental Health Law or the Criminal Procedure Law depending on the specific situation. This essay gives a brief introduction to the two institutions involving forced deprivation of liberty of the mentally ill; compulsory treatment and involuntary hospitalisation. By comparing these two institutions, it also points out their shortcomings and some possible steps forward.

Systematising Human Rights Violations

The People’s Republic of China has a long history of abusive coercive custody—from administrative reeducation through labour to forced incarceration in police-run psychiatric facilities and extra-legal black jails. Through recent legislative and constitutional amendments China has attempted to systematise human rights abuses behind the veneer of the rule of law. But in institutionalising arbitrary and secret detention, China is in stark violation of international human rights law and fundamental norms.

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