Towards a Command Civil Society?

China’s Xi-Era Rules on Social Organising

What are the future possibilities for Chinese civil society? Practitioners and academics speak of optimism or pessimism—whether ‘spring’ will soon come or whether civil society organisations (CSOs) will remain in the depths of ‘winter’ (Zhu and Lu 2022). The tougher it seems for CSOs to survive, the more common such language becomes. In recent years, […]

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A Post-Covid Spring Has Come

The Latest NGO Boom in China

A boom in the nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) sector was evident in post-Covid China during my fieldwork in April–June 2023. After the Covid-19 lockdowns were lifted and the leadership change was completed in late 2022, there was an upsurge of NGO events, collaborations, and transnational networking. Live events, including NGO conferences and the Beijing Queer Film […]

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Testing Uncertainty: Chance, Play, and Humour as Pandemic Response

This essay explores different responses to experiences of uncertainty about PCR testing in China during the Covid-19 pandemic. We examine creative responses that were developed to manage unknown testing outcomes, durations, and environments. As a contribution to empirical work on experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic, our work centres on the management of uncertainty through chance, play, and humour.

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The Poison Kings: Markers of Mobility and Morality

This essay looks at the so-called poison kings—people who, knowingly or otherwise, became transmission vectors of Covid-19. We explore the history of the term and its relationship to the corona-shaped virus. The examples we bring demonstrate how the label was deployed mostly as a moral category during the Covid-19 pandemic, even though sometimes there were […]

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Red, Yellow, Green: Test, Test, Test

Shenzhen, the home city of Tencent and a global technology hub, has long been one step ahead of the rest of China in digital governance and control. In October 2022, the city’s Bao’an District—where one of the authors of this paper, Hailing, was living—witnessed a small-scale outbreak of Covid-19. In response, the district government announced […]

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‘They Want the Horse to Run but Without Providing Feed’

Labour Exploitation of Healthcare Workers in China

On 13 December 2022, the hashtag ‘Sudden Death of a First-Year Graduate Student on Duty at the West China Hospital of the Sichuan University’ (#华西研一学生在岗猝死#) on Sina Weibo triggered heated discussions about the welfare of healthcare workers in China. Chat logs and medical records circulating online indicated that 23-year-old student Chen Jiahui had tested positive […]

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Winter Olympic Dreams and Foreign Friends

With outstretched arms ready to provide a hug, the winner of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics cross-country skiing women’s 30-kilometre Mass Start welcomed the last contestant as she reached the finish line. As the two embraced, Norwegian Olympic champion Therese Johaug consolingly told the last-place finisher, Dinigeer Yilamujiang of the Chinese team: ‘Be proud of […]

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China’s Maker Movement

What Is It and Why Does No-One Talk about It Anymore?

In 2015, the ‘maker culture’ of individual empowerment and open-source production was elevated as part of China’s national economic development strategy of mass entrepreneurship and innovation. Despite the hype, however, the top-down, government-promoted maker movement in China has been in decline since 2017. Drawing on seven months of participant observation as an intern in Shenzhen makerspaces and high-tech start-ups, as well as 95 semi-structured interviews conducted in 2020 and 2021, this essay examines recent developments in China’s maker movement and the perceptions, experiences, and negotiations of individual makers in this process, shedding light on the dynamics of entrepreneurship and innovation in China from the bottom up.

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Cheers and Tears: Life Stories of Highly Educated Women in Shenzhen

Shenzhen, the ‘Silicon Valley of China’, embodies rapid development and the profound challenges it brings. Harvey (2005: 1) describes China’s market-oriented reforms as ‘neoliberalism with Chinese characteristics’ and points out that China is the outcome of a ‘particular kind of neoliberalism interdigitated with authoritarian centralised control’ (Harvey 2006: 34). Shenzhen’s extraordinary transformation from a small […]

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