In the wake of the 2015 crackdown on labour NGOs, pessimism about the future of Chinese civil society has been unavoidable even for the most assured optimists. Still, pessimism and optimism in discussions of Chinese labour NGOs have roots that go far deeper than these latest turn of events. In this essay, Ivan Franceschini and Kevin Lin take stock of the existing literature and reconsider the debate in light of the latest developments, proposing a possible synthesis between ‘optimistic’ and ‘pessimistic’ views
Ivan Franceschini and Kevin Lin
According to the Chinese zodiac, 2017 was the year of the ‘fire rooster’, an animal often associated with the mythical fenghuang, a magnificently beautiful bird whose appearance is believed to mark the beginning of a new era of peaceful flourishing. Considering the auspicious symbolism, it is fitting that in October 2017 President Xi Jinping took to the stage of the Nineteenth Party Congress to proclaim the beginning of a ‘new era’ for Chinese socialism. This Yearbook traces the stark new ‘gilded age’ inaugurated by the Chinese Communist Party. It does so through a collection of more than forty original essays on labour, civil society, and human rights in China and beyond.
No expertise comes without constant doubt and a willingness to challenge established truths. Chinoiresie represents our attempt to question some of today’s understandings and certainties about China. It blends the image of a ‘chinoiserie’—a foreign interpretation and imitation of Chinese artistic traditions, a term that over time has come to assume the meaning of a clichè, a stereotypical view of China—with the concept of ‘heresy’—an unorthodox view aimed at challenging a given truth.
The previous decade saw widespread discussions about the role of the Internet in reshaping power relations in Chinese society. New media—it was widely believed—would give voice to the poor and downtrodden, allow citizens to better supervise government activity, and foster lively cultural exchanges. Workers would also benefit from this, as the Internet provided them with the tools needed to bring their grievances into the spotlight and enhance their ability to connect with their peers to establish new forms of solidarity. A decade later, what is left of that cyber-utopian discourse? This issue of Made in China offers a series of essays that attempt to answer this question against the backdrop of the latest developments in Chinese politics and society.