Hooligan Sparrow: A Conversation with Wang Nanfu

After her return to China in June 2013, Wang Nanfu, a postgraduate from New York University, trained her camera on Ye Haiyan, an activist for sex workers (see Tiantian Zheng’s essay in this issue). In Hainan province, she filmed Ye’s protests against the sexual assault of several primary school girls by their principal, and the […]

Once Upon a Time in China: Lu Zhixiang’s Sketches of Shanghai’s Society in the 1930s

Cartoon master Lu Zhixiang’s artistic production offers notable glimpses into timeless aspects of Shanghai’s metropolitan modernisation in the 1930s, providing particular insight into the plight of the underclasses. In this essay, Martina Caschera argues that Lu’s work is not only particularly representative of the ideal approach to artistic creation strongly upheld by leftist intellectuals in that epoch, but can also be useful as we reflect on the social dynamics of present-day China.

Plastic China: Beyond Waste Imports

In the last two years, the issue of waste exports to China has attracted considerable media and public attention. As a result, awareness of the social and environmental impact of the global trade in recyclables has increased substantially, both within and outside of China. Among contributing factors was Plastic China (suliao wangguo, 2016), a documentary directed by […]

Crime and Punishment on a Chinese Border

Zhao Liang’s 2007 documentary Crime and Punishment details the emergence of a local police state in a small Chinese town on the border with North Korea. The film follows national border officers who have been called in to take over the town’s policing duties, and the ways in which they interact with local people. As the film unfolds, one incident after another, viewers are drawn into a world of policing which is slow, tiresome, petty, and punctuated with violence.

Communist Hibernation

I recognise in thieves, traitors, and murderers, in the ruthless and the cunning, a deep beauty—a sunken beauty. Jean Genet Geng Jun’s films are set in north-eastern China where he grew up. As Geng Jun put it in an interview I conducted with him at a friend’s studio in Songzhuang this past August: When people […]

We the Workers: A Conversation with Huang Wenhai

Shot over a six-year period (2009–2015) mainly in the industrial heartland of south China—a major hub in the global supply chain—the 2017 film We the Workers (xiongnian zhi pan) follows labour activists as they find common grounds with workers, helping them to negotiate with local officials and factory owners over wages and working conditions. Threats, attacks, detention, and boredom become part of their daily lives as they struggle to strengthen worker solidarity in the face of threats and pressures from police and their employers. In the process, we see in their words and actions the emergence of a nascent working-class consciousness and labour movement in China. What follows is a conversation between Zeng Jinyan, producer of the movie, and its director Huang Wenhai.

The Last Days of Shi Yang

What follows is a fictionalised account of the last days of Shi Yang (1889–1923) based on the prison diaries included in the commemorative volume Shi Yang jinian wenji (Museum of the 7 February Massacre, Wuhan 1988). Shi Yang was a weiquan lawyer ante litteram, and to this day he remains an inspiration to many labour activists in China. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) celebrates him as a martyr of the revolution, the irony of which will not escape those who are aware of the plight of human rights lawyers and labour activists in the country today. That in April 2018 the Chinese government passed a new law to protect the reputation and honour of ‘its’ heroes and martyrs can be seen as further adding to the irony.

Rural Migrant Workers in Independent Films: Representations of Everyday Agency

The recent wave of evictions of tens of thousands of rural migrants in Beijing has served as a harsh reminder of the subaltern condition of many of these people in today’s China. This essay examines how rural migrant workers have been represented in Chinese independent documentary films. It points to the importance of conceptually linking the political economy, sociology, and cultural politics of labour in order to apprehend the subject-making processes of migrant workers in today’s China.

Figuring Post-worker Shenzhen

In 2013, Handshake 302, an independent art space located in a 12.5-square-metre efficiency apartment, was opened in Baishizhou, Shenzhen’s most iconic urban village. The space functions as a gallery or an apartment, depending on the needs of the collaborating artists. Over the past five years, the curators have been able to create site-responsive art that grapples with the city’s uneasy negotiation between the formal and the informal, the urban and the rural, the emergent and the vanishing, as well as the anxieties that the Shenzhen’s success has generated.

Resurrecting the Dead

Lu Xun today lives a new life in his homeland as well as abroad. However, given the vastness and unevenness of his oeuvre, not all his works receive the same attention. In particular, one collection of short stories stands out for their neglect: Old Tales Retold, a series of comic sketches based on ancient Chinese myths and legends published shortly before his death. This essay focusses on this semi-forgotten pearl and its relevance for today’s readers.

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