The Trouble with Wang Yangming

The revered Confucian Wang Yangming has received much attention in recent years, not only because his compelling life story and philosophy deservedly attract it, but also because President Xi Jinping has openly expressed admiration for him. Building on the foundation of his grassroots popularity and historical and philosophical significance, the government of China has actively encouraged learning from the Ming Dynasty scholar-official. However, the political implications of his tenets and conduct as a Ming official have long been the subject of heated debate, one that remains relevant today. This essay reviews the revival of Yangmingism in China and explores the meaning of it.

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From the ‘Chinese National Character’ Debates of Yesterday to the Anti-China Foreign Policy of Today

Retracing the basic contours of the debates about the ‘Chinese national character’, this essay considers the harkening back to the ‘national character’ discourse of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by many liberal Sinophone dissident scholars in the 1980s and Hong Kong cultural critics in the 2000s as a reaction against decades of class discourse in China. This revival of cultural essentialism has since provided a key ideological register for dissidents, especially those on the frontlines of shaping anti-China foreign policy in the West today, thus limiting the horizon for alternative imaginaries of democratic politics.

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Unfortunate or Convenient? Contextualising China’s Covid-19 Border Restrictions

China’s Covid-19 border control measures have disrupted decades of ever-increasing mobility in and out of China, just at a time of growing uncertainty about China’s relations with much of the outside world. As they persist into 2022, fuelling worries about China’s increasing isolation, it is useful to take stock and look at these policies more […]

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Disarticulating Qingnian

Chinese Youth beyond ‘Rising Tides’ and ‘Lying Flat’

This essay explores youth in today’s China by analysing Bilibili’s widely viewed Rising Tides video and the recent ‘lying flat’ campaign. To put these two phenomena in context, the essay examines a group of young students who are able to move beyond the confines of the position designated them by the state and the market through knowledge accumulation, cooperation, and network-building, but unable to become an autonomous social force.

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The Melancholy of Kinship in Post–One-Child China

On 26 July 2021, Canadian swimmer Maggie Mac Neil won the Olympic gold medal in the 100-metre butterfly, beating China’s Zhang Yufei by 0.05 seconds. This sparked heated online discussions regarding child abandonment, especially of baby girls, in China during the one-child era (1979–2015). According to reports in Chinese mainland media, Mac Neil was given […]

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Foreigner in China: Economic Transition and the Chinese State’s Vision of Immigration and Race

China’s recently proposed immigration reforms highlight the country’s need for foreign talent in its transition to a knowledge-intensive economy. The state’s vision, however, seems to be coloured by issues of race. Examining the representations of foreigners of different ethnicities and backgrounds on Chinese Central Television, this essay argues that while the state may be relaxing permanent residency restrictions, it favours white foreigners because of the racialised assumptions about the high levels of education and expertise that supposedly come with their whiteness.

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The End of an Era? Two Decades of Shenzhen Urban Villages

Discussions of ‘urban villages’ tend to refer to this term as if it had had a universal and fixed meaning. In this way, the phrase comes to implicitly refer to the present moment, telescoping our understanding of rural and urban relations to the present. By looking back at the experience of Shenzhen over the past decades, this essay restores urban villages to their historicity and unpacks the unacknowledged moral judgments that often underlie our understanding of these places.

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Reining in Rogue Legislation

An Overview of China’s Invigoration of the ‘Recording and Review’ Process

During the 1980s and 1990s, the Chinese Government created two forms of administrative detention to combat perceived social ills. The first, ‘custody and repatriation’ (C&R, 收容遣送), was used ‘as a coercive measure to manage the flow of migrant workers and undesirables into China’s urban centers’ (Hand 2006: 120). The other, known as ‘custody and education’ […]

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Industrial Things in a Post-Industrial Society

The Life and Afterlife of a Chinese Glass-Forming Machine

This essay considers the emergence of post-industrial China through an examination of the ‘social’ and ‘antisocial’ lives of an industrial glass-forming machine. By reviewing the process through which glass-forming technology developed in China, the closure of industrial glass manufacturing in Shanghai, and the adoption of an abandoned glass-forming machine by the Shanghai Museum of Glass, the essay reflects on the ways in which one formerly industrial district has begun to negotiate its multiple and sometimes conflicting identities.

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Outsider Within: Young Chinese Feminist Activism in the Age of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom

In early February 2020, COVID-19 sparked increasing racist violence against Chinese communities in the United Kingdom. In response to this, we as Chinese feminists who study in the country initiated a campaign called ChineseAgainstRacistVirus. Along with coordinating posts on social media, we organised a public protest in London’s Trafalgar Square. Four months later, the death […]

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