Datong, Forever in Limbo

The 2015 documentary The Chinese Mayor by Zhou Hao documents the story of Datong, Shanxi province, as its leaders embark on an ambitious plan to transform the city into a tourist destination. Still, although the filmmakers devote sustained attention to the relocated residents and their demolished homes, the film is no exposé: it is mostly intended to educate an international audience on the internal workings of the Chinese policy-making process.

Industrial Landscapes of Socialist Realism

Although industrial landscapes today appear as one of the most alien of art forms, they were once fundamental as backgrounds of socialist realist paintings. This essay examines the legacies of two masters of the genre in China and North Korea—Song Wenzhi (1919–1999) and Chōng Yōngman (1938–1999)—and demonstrates how different revolutionary histories have led to a divergence in legacy and achievement.

In the Absence of a Peasantry, What, Then, Is a Hong Kong Farmer?

Given the social and political significance of ‘the peasant’ (nongmin) in modern Chinese history, it is surprising that the term nongmin is largely absent in Hong Kong, where discourses about individual farmers (nongfu) are far more prevalent. In tracing the modern etymology of Chinese peasants and the history of Hong Kong agriculture, this essay argues that the lack of ‘class’ consciousness makes Hong Kong farmers even more vulnerable to the unceasing wave of urban sprawl.

Boom or Bust in China’s Jade Trade with Myanmar

Since 2014, declining economic growth and Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign have led to decreasing demand in certain markets for jadeite—the highest valued type of jade in China. But while institutional factors may explain these short-term fluctuations, historical continuity and cultural imaginations underpinning Chinese demand suggest that the jadeite market boom in China is not quite over yet.

How China’s Environmental Crackdown Is Affecting Business Owners and Workers: The Case of Chengdu

The Nineteenth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has seen an outpouring of support for strengthening environmental protections—a theme which was central to Xi Jinping’s opening speech. This event comes amid an intensified environmental crackdown across the country. Beginning in late July, drawing on the vivid metaphor of ‘cutting with a single knife’ (yi […]

The Precarity of Layoffs and State Compensation: The Minimum Livelihood Guarantee

When discussing the outcomes of China’s economic development, the poverty that can still be found in Chinese cities is seldom mentioned. While the Party-state is indeed making a token effort to sustain the victims of this destitution, these people and their offspring will never be able to escape this manufactured poverty. This essay looks at the policy process that led to this outcome and at the prospects for poverty alleviation in Chinese urban areas.

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.

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