In late February, the Chinese Communist Party announced that it would advise the repeal of term limits for the President and Vice President from China’s Constitution. Some have been tempted to see this as a simple and naked power grab, putting China into the basket of tin-pot strongman regimes. China’s official media, meanwhile, have downplayed the move—portraying it as necessary to advance and secure liberalising reforms. The reality, of course, is more complex.
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.
On 12 May 2008, a 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit Wenchuan county, Sichuan province. Felt as far as Beijing, the tremors caused horrific damage: 69,229 people died and 17,923 went missing. Yet, the aftermath of the seism was also a time of hope—with Chinese citizens from all over the country outdoing each other to show solidarity with the victims. As local governments began to recognise the importance of NGOs in providing disaster relief and social services, 2008 was widely seen as a ‘Year Zero’ for Chinese civil society. At that time, hardly anybody could have foreseen the wave of repression against civil society that was to come and that is today the norm. This issue looks back at the legacy of this disaster, and the ways in which state and civil society actors renegotiate their positions during ‘states of emergency’.