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.

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The Coal Transition in Datong

An Ethnographic Perspective

The city of Datong, Shanxi province, has long been known as the ‘coal capital’ of China. Through an ethnographic approach based on long-term observation and in-depth interviews conducted over several years, this essay examines how the restructuring of the local coal industry in the reform era has impacted the living and working conditions of the miners in the area.

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Blood Lineage / 血统

Bloodline, or lineage, has been a political ideology of many monarchical regimes and aristocratic societies throughout history. The rise of nationalism in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries paralleled the discourse of purity and authenticity of one’s blood/race. In the context of national formation, blood is a metaphor for race, ethnicity, and sexuality that […]

Epidemic Control in China: A Conversation with Liu Shao-hua

Liu Shao-hua earned her PhD in Sociomedical Sciences and Anthropology at Columbia University, and is now a Research Fellow at the Institute of Ethnology at the Academia Sinica, Taiwan. Her research takes AIDS, drug use, leprosy, and environmental issues as a lens for analysing the nature and trajectories of contemporary social change and individual life […]

Garbage as Value and Sorting as Labour in China’s New Waste Policy

On 1 July 2019, new rules went into effect forcing Shanghai residents and businesses to sort their garbage into four categories (wet, dry, hazardous, and recyclable) under the threat of fines and social credit penalties. An explosion of social media commentary ensued, some supportive but most cynical. The question ‘what kind of garbage are you?’ […]

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Revolution and State Formation as Oasis Storytelling in Xinjiang

No one can say that the world is ignoring Xinjiang. In October, at the American Association of Christian Counselors, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo likened China’s treatment of over a million Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region to George Orwell’s 1984 (Reuters 2019). This was at the same time that the Trump White […]

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Recruiting Loyal Stabilisers: On the Banality of Carceral Colonialism in Xinjiang

The ongoing mass incarceration of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Turkic Muslim people in Xinjiang is rooted in Chinese settler colonialism in the region since the 1950s via the paramilitary Xinjiang Production and Construction Corp (bingtuan) and ethnic Han influx. This article explores the ongoing human transfer project in Xinjiang through the banal language of recruitment and employment, which aims to eventually dilute and replace the native populations. While detention centres and prisons keep expanding, the bingtuan continues to legitimise itself as a stabiliser by cultivating loyalty and a sense of belonging among the new waves of Han immigrants.

China and the Political Myth of ‘Brainwashing’

‘Brainwashing’ is a ubiquitous word, a basic part of the vocabulary in various languages around the world. In fact, the allegation is used so frequently in modern discourse that we might be puzzled as to how political arguments ever got by without its striking, pejorative imagery. It is de rigueur to describe those with different […]

Poor Attitudes towards the Poor: Conceptions of Poverty among the Rich and Powerful in China

In primary school, nearly every Chinese child reads Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Little Match Girl’, a short story that is supposed to foster empathy for the poor. Chinese children also read Dostoevsky’s Poor Folk, a novel that explains that poor people are noble, kind, and compassionate, always willing to help others despite their tremendous difficulties […]

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