From Africa to Saipan: What Happens When Chinese Construction Firms ‘Go Global’?

For the past several years, I have been deeply engaged with a case involving the exploitation of thousands of Chinese workers by Chinese construction firms on the island of Saipan—part of the United States Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). This essay explores the extent to which Professor Ching Kwan Lee’s findings and conclusions […]

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Strategic Resources and Chinese State Capital: A View from Laos

The claim at the heart of Ching Kwan Lee’s The Specter of Global China (2017) is that Chinese state capital differs from other forms of global private capital. But Lee acknowledges that ‘state capital’ is a complicated category—not all state-owned enterprises share similar connections to the state, and many private companies have robust ties to […]

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Varieties of Capital and Predistribution: The Foundations of Chinese Infrastructural Investment in the Caribbean

At a moment when many politicians and media outlets in the ‘West’ seem adamant to portray China as an antagonist to the United States eager to craft a less-than-capitalist new world order, Ching Kwan Lee’s The Specter of Global China (2017) offers a breath of fresh air. Lee’s meticulous investigation of the varieties of Chinese […]

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Variety of Capital? Chinese Multinational Corporations in Europe

How do we approach the internationalisation of Chinese capital? With US company expansion came Americanisation and Fordism; with Japanese internationalisation, Japanisation and transplantation. So does the geographical shift of Chinese multinational companies (MNCs)—often under state ownership—bring with it Sinification? The recent work of Ching Kwan Lee (2017), on Chinese companies in Zambia may offer some […]

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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’

Difficult Fieldwork, Positionality, and Being a Participant-researcher

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.

Interpreting Chinese Labour: Informalisation or Empowerment?

The struggle and activism of Chinese workers has been a topic of primary interest since the beginning of the reform era. Still, expectations have never been higher than in the past few years, with an unending stream of media articles and academic papers hailing the new-found rights awareness of Chinese workers—especially the so-called second generation […]

Interpreting the Rule of Law in China

With its ample resonance both within China and internationally, the ‘rule of law’ (yifa zhiguo) is an expression that can justify the most disparate justice reforms. It is both a political value worth defending and a reason for consternation; it is an ideal that is inherently troubling and troubled by its interlocutors, advocates, and critics. […]

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