Labour and Rights in an Era of Global Precarity: Views from China

Made in China Summer School 2017 – Venice, 17–21 July

In the Made in China Yearbook 2016: Disturbances in Heaven—available as a free download from this link—we have outlined the main developments that took place in the fields of labour and civil society in China over the past year. The situation is dire. Although the Chinese government has never been reluctant to repress dissent, in 2016 we have witnessed an authoritarian drift that only a few years ago would have been unthinkable. Not only have labour activists fallen victim to regular intimidation from the party-state, but new laws and regulations have also been passed in order to cut off labour and rights NGOs from any international sources of funding. This happened in concomitance with an economic slowdown that pushed local governments in China to freeze minimum wages and lower the rate of social security contributions shouldered by companies in order to prevent capital flight. Chinese workers have been restless, as they see their very livelihoods threatened by these new developments, but in absence of any meaningful representation they have been largely unable to resist these trends.

In such difficult times, it is more important than ever to take a closer look at the challenges that Chinese workers and citizens are facing today. At the same time, it is also important to give credit to those in positions of authority who are currently going to great lengths to address the grievances and call for justice of many ordinary Chinese citizens. Such understanding is a necessary precondition to build those bridges of international solidarity and mutual comprehension so important in the period of global turmoil that we all now face, as the entire world seems to be descending into provincialism, xenophobia, and worse.

These are the goals of the inaugural Made in China Summer School ‘Labour and Rights in an Era of Global Precarity: Views from China’, that will be held on the Island of San Servolo, Venice, from 17 to 21 July 2017. This event will bring together prominent scholars from all over the world for a series of presentations and discussions with students, trade unionists, and NGO activists. The Summer School will be structured in two parts. The first three days will consist of masterclasses given by prominent scholars on topics related to contemporary Chinese politics and society, including the latest developments in labour rights, political discourse, land, trade unions, and labour protests in China. The last two days will be structured as an interactive workshop in which the speakers will present and discuss specific case studies collected during their fieldwork. The first day of the workshop will be dedicated to presentations related to ‘precarity’ in the Chinese context, the second to presentations on various aspects of ‘Chinese labour in a global perspective’, with case studies from Cambodia, Mongolia, Vietnam, and other countries.


A detailed programme of the classes and workshop will be published shortly. Here follows a list of the Summer School speakers and a brief description of the topics they will cover in their classes.

Stefan Brehm - Lund University

Stefan Brehm is a Researcher at the Centre for East and South East Asian Studies, Lund University and co-founder of Globalworks Lund AB; a start-up specializing in big data analytics for social and environmental governance (ESG). Stefan is an economist by training and has studied modern Chinese in Germany and Taiwan. He has worked on a wide field of China related issues such as financial market regulation, fiscal policies, innovation systems, technology, leadership, environmental governance, and labour rights. As an advisor to the private and public sector he gained practical insight into social auditing practices in Chinese factories. At the Summer School he will discuss Internet-enabled worker solidarity and big data analytics. (Full institutional profile at this link)

Antonella Ceccagno - University of Bologna

Antonella Ceccagno teaches Sociology of East Asia at the University of Bologna, Italy. For more than ten years she worked as the Managing and Research Director of the Center for Immigration Research and Services in Prato, Italy. She is interested in the emergence of new labour regimes and the role of migrants in processes of urban, regional, and industrial restructuring. She has written extensively on the Chinese migrants in the Italian fashion industry. She is the author of the forthcoming book City Making and Global Labour Regimes, Palgrave, 2017. Her current research interests revolve around the mobility of migrant workers and processes of workforce ethnicisation. At the Summer School she will discuss—together with Devi Sacchetto—the dormitory labour regimes in Europe from the point of view of the workers and their agency. (Full institutional profile at this link)

Anita Chan - Australian National University

Anita Chan is Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University and co-editor of The China Journal. She began her academic career examining the political socialisation of the Red Guard generation, Chinese rural society, mass protest movements, Chinese dissidents, and human rights issues. For the past three decades her research has focused on Chinese labour issues, including work conditions in China’s automotive industry; Chinese industrial relations; Chinese state enterprises institutional structure; labour conditions and trade unions in foreign companies in China and in Vietnam; the changing nature of Chinese enterprise culture; the global production chain and corporate social responsibility. She has published a dozen books (including China’s Workers under Assault: Exploitation in a Globalising Economy) and more than one hundred refereed papers. Her most recent books are, as editor, Walmart in China and Chinese Workers in Comparative Perspective. At the Summer School she will discuss agency workers in China’s auto joint ventures. (Full institutional profile at this link)

Chen Feng - Hong Kong Baptist University

Chen Feng is a Professor at the Department of Government and International Studies of Hong Kong Baptist University.  His research focuses on China’s labour politics and labour movements. His publications cover a range of labour issues in China such as labour resistance, labour dispute settlement, labour rights, the trade union, labour NGOs, and so on. He is currently doing a research on worker representatives in collective labour disputes in South China. He is particularly interested in a theoretical exploration of the distinct causal effect between the Leninist state and the patterns of labour activism in China and looks into how the sequence of state building and labour mobilization shapes the trajectories of state-labour relations in different social contexts from a perspective of comparative historical analysis. His previous research covers ideology, legitimacy, and party organizations in China. At the Summer School he will discuss the situation of labour disputes and labour rights in China. (Full institutional profile at this link)

Francesca Coin - Ca' Foscari University of Venice

Francesca Coin is Assistant Professor in Sociology at Cà Foscari University of Venice, where she teaches Neoliberal Policies and Global Social Movements. She has published extensively on the relationship between precarious labor, subjectivity and money, drawing particularly on the work of Marx, Nietzsche, and Deleuze to undo the notion of subjectivity in a neoliberal world. She is vice-president of Cisve—Center for Comparative International Studies at Cà Foscari University. Her recent publications include: Salari rubati. Economia politica e conflitto ai tempi del lavoro gratuito (ombre corte, 2017); her forthcoming book on precarity and debt in Southern Europe is titled: Non salvateci più (Minimum Fax 2017). (Full institutional profile at this link)

Ivan Franceschini - Ca’ Foscari University and Australian National University

Ivan Franceschini is a Marie Curie Fellow at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and at the Australian Centre on China in the World. His research focuses on Chinese labour and civil society, but he is also interested in Chinese modern history and literature. He has published several books related to China, on topics ranging from human trafficking to digital activism, and from labour struggles to civil society. Currently, he is developing a research project on Chinese labour in global perspective that will enlarge the scope of his analysis to other Asian countries, particularly Cambodia. At the Summer School he will discuss the situation of Chinese labour NGOs and present his latest comparative research on Chinese and Cambodian workers. (Full institutional profile at this link)

Mary Gallagher - University of Michigan

Mary Gallagher is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she is also the Director of the Center for Chinese Studies, and a faculty associate at the Center for Comparative Political Studies at the Institute for Social Research. Her research areas are Chinese politics, comparative politics of transitional and developing states, and law and society. The underlying question that drives her research in all of these areas is whether the development of markets is linked to the sequential development of democratic politics and legal rationality. Put simply, she is interested in the relationships between capitalism, law and democracy. Her empirical research in China is used to explore these larger theoretical questions. At the Summer School she will discuss the relationship between Chinese workers and the Law. (Full institutional profile at this link)

Luigi Lama - Centro Studi Cisl

Luigi Lama is a Trainer at Centro Studi Cisl, the national training centre for one of the major Italian trade union confederations, where he is responsible for training national and local leaders. He is also a senior project manager in the Cisl Trade Union Institute for Development Cooperation (ISCOS). From 1989 to 1996, he was in charge of training at the national metalworkers federation FIM Cisl. His main areas of interest are industrial relations and collective bargaining, trade unions as organisations, and union history. Luigi has managed and taught in international training programmes in Europe, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. His publications can be found at this link.

Nicholas Loubere - Lund University

Nicholas Loubere is Associate Senior Lecturer in the Study of Modern China at the Centre for East and South-East Asian Studies, Lund University. His main area of research explores the ways in which microcredit programmes are implemented at the township and village levels in rural China, and the roles that these programmes play in local development strategies and livelihoods. He is also in the process of developing two new research projects. The first seeks to examine the informal migration of Chinese nationals to Ghana in order to engage in small-scale gold mining. The second aims to explore the use of new forms of Internet finance – particularly peer-to-peer lending – in rural areas of China. At the Summer School, he will discuss the role that microcredit has played in the Chinese government’s responses to unemployment. (Full institutional profile at this link)

Fabio Perocco - Ca' Foscari University of Venice

Fabio Perocco, a sociologist at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, is responsible for the Laboratory for Social Research and coordinator of the Masters course on migration. His research interests include inequalities, social change and social transformations, labour, migration, and racism. He is currently engaged in a project focusing on the working and health conditions of posted workers in Europe. At the Summer School he will discuss the relationship between the processes of structural precarisation of work and migration, in particular the ‘double role’ migration may play in such processes. (Full institutional profile at this link)

Andrea Enrico Pia - London School of Economics

Andrea Enrico Pia is an anthropologist of China who specialises in the study of human relationships to, and projects for, the natural environment. He has conducted long-term fieldwork in the Jingxi area of Beijing City, and more recently in North-East Yunnan Province. His work investigates the entanglements of political, legal, technical, and ethical issues with the appropriation, distribution and circulation of common water sources in contemporary China. His interest lies in exploring questions of scarcity, human cooperation and environmental justice. He also writes on sustainability, rural politics and the Chinese State in comparative perspective. At the Summer School he will present his latest publication on the rural commons in China. (Full institutional profile at this link)

Devi Sacchetto - University of Padua

Devi Sacchetto teaches Sociology of Labour at the University of Padua, Italy. His research interests revolve around migration and labour processes, with a particular attention to the dimension of gender. Currently he is working on a comparative research project on Foxconn ICT factories in Europe (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Turkey), and China. He focuses on the consequences of the reconfiguration of time and space both for workers and the organization of production. He is studying how global production networks are able to operationalize diversity in the compositions of the workforce. At the Summer School he will discuss – together with Antonella Ceccagno– the dormitory labour regimes in Europe from the point of view of the workers and their agency. (Full institutional profile at this link)

Chris Smith - Royal Holloway, University of London

Chris Smith is Professor of Organisation Studies and Comparative Management at Royal Holloway, University of London, United Kingdom. He has held visiting professorships at the University of Hong Kong, and the Universities of Wollongong, Sydney, and Griffith, Australia. He teaches on the globalisation of work and comparative analysis of employment. His research interests are in labour process theory, work and employment transfer through the transnational firm, comparative analysis of work and employment, and professional labour. He is currently researching the organisation of the labour process in Chinese factories and the character of the so-called Chinese Business Model abroad. He has been active in the International Labour Process Conference for many years. His recent publications include China at Work (Palgrave, 2016, with Mingwei Liu); Working Life: Renewing Labour Process Analysis (Palgrave, 2010, with Paul Thompson); Creative Labour: Working in the Creative Industries (Palgrave, 2009, with Alan McKinlay); and Assembling Work (Oxford University Press, 2005, with Tony Elger). (Full institutional profile at this link)

Dorothy Solinger - University of California, Irvine

Dorothy Solinger’s field of specialisation is Chinese domestic politics, particularly political sociology. She has focused on political decision-making, and social and political reactions to policy about economic and social matters. In her early research, she wrote on regional policy and regionalism in China; the treatment of minority nationalities; the politics of socialist commerce, the treatment of the private sector under socialism in China, and the politics of economic reform. She has also published two major comparative studies, one on industrial policy in China, with comparative reference to similar policy in Japan and France, and the other on states’ global involvement, workers’ unemployment, protest and welfare in China, France and Mexico. Another project concerned the management of the transient peasant population in China. In recent years her work has been on laid-off workers, urban poverty policy and the urban poor, and welfare reform. She has also published on transitions from one-party rule in Taiwan, Korea and Mexico, and has written several pieces on projections about the democratisation of China. At the summer school she will examine the transition of China from socialism to globalisation and its implications for Chinese workers. (Full institutional profile at this link)

Christian Sorace - Australian National University

Christian Sorace is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Australian Centre on China in the World. His research focuses on the ideology, discourse, and political concepts of the Chinese Communist Party and how they shape policies, strategies, and governance habits. Christian’s new research project is a cross-national comparison of planned urban redevelopment, demolition, and relocation in Mongolia and China. At the Summer School, he will examine how the ideology and discourse of the Communist Party shape China’s political economy. (Full institutional profile at this link)

Marina Svensson - Lund University

Marina Svensson is Director of the Centre for East and South-East Asian Studies at Lund University. Her main fields of research include: human rights debates and struggles; legal developments and struggles; cultural heritage debates and issues; investigative journalism, journalism cultures, and China’s media ecology; documentary film and visual cultures; China’s digital society. At the Summer School, she will discuss the role of new media in labour activism in China. (Full institutional profile at this link)

Luigi Tomba - University of Sydney

Luigi Tomba worked at the Australian National University for over fifteen years. Since 2017, he is the Director of the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. His early research focused on the ideological debates and policy implications of China’s labour reform, between 1975 and 1995, but Luigi’s best-known work is on urbanisation, the social engineering of a Chinese urban middle class, housing and land reform. His current research interests are informed by China’s urban question the ideological implications of China’s project to urbanise the country and its social, political and territorial consequences. His most recent book, The Government Next Door, won the prestigious Joseph Levenson Prize in 2016. At the Summer School, he will discuss land rights in China and their implications for internal migrations and the labour rights.

Jonathan Unger - Australian National University

Jonathan Unger is a Professor at the Political and Social Change Department, the Australian National University. Before coming to ANU in 1986, he was academic staff member of the UK’s Institute of Development Studies, University of Kansas, University of Washington and Leiden University. In the early 1970s he had served in Asia as a foreign correspondent covering China. Since coming to ANU, he has spent about seven months investigating poverty alleviation projects in rural China in behalf of AusAid and the Asia Development Bank. He has published fourteen books and more than seventy refereed papers. He is one of the two co-editors of The China Journal, one of the world’s leading journals on modern China. At the Summer School he will discuss how migrant labour has changed in China over the past decades. (Full institutional profile at this link)

Valter Zanin - University of Padua

Valter Zanin is an Adjunct Professor of Sociology of Organisations at the University of Padua, Italy, where he coordinates a research group on contemporary coerced labour and related issues. He is member of the scientific board of the Unesco Chair on Sustainable Development and Territorial Management (University of Torino), International Association for Audiovisual Archives on Migrations Europe-Latin America (Areia—University of Genova), and Research Group on Contemporary Slavery (Gptec—Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro). He carried out field research on the mining sector in Brazil, international maritime labour, and Chinese migration in Italy and Brazil. His research on Chinese migration in Italy has focused on labour and health conditions of Chinese migrant workers, and of the transformations of work-organization and management in Chinese migrant-run enterprises. At the Summer School, he will discuss labour conditions of Chinese migrant workers and entrepreneurs in Italy.

Yu Zheng - Royal Holloway, University of London

Yu Zheng is a Senior Lecture in Asian Business and International Human Resource Management at the School of Management, Royal Holloway, University of London. Yu’s research focuses on work organisation and employment relations in multinational firms, particularly those from China and Japan. Her first research monograph explores changes in workplaces brought about by the increasing influence of foreign investment in China. In a current research project, Yu investigates the employment practices adopted by Chinese multinational firms to manage expatriation, overseas workforces and union relations. Yu is a committee member of the Euro-Asia Management Studies Association. She has also written for the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) on issues related to Chinese foreign direct investment in Europe. (Full institutional profile at this link)


The summer school will be held at Venice International University on the ancient Island of San Servolo, ten minutes by boat from Saint Mark Square in central Venice. The island is an oasis in a unique urban setting, where students will be able to interact with the speakers in a peaceful park spread across twelve scenic acres with a panoramic view of Venice. San Servolo is composed of a large architectural complex and a lovely park. Its first settlement dates back to the 17th century, when a group of Benedictine monks took refuge on the narrow and marshy island. In 1647, the complex was given to a group of Benedictine, Dominican, and Franciscan nuns from the island of Candia (modern-day Crete). In contemporary times, the Province of Venezia has retained ownership of the island, and in the 1990s, architectural recovery programme was initiated to protect and promote its natural scenery and heritage.

Fees and Scholarships

The summer school will be provided entirely for free, but participants will have to pay for their own flights, food, and accommodation. Four scholarships of 500 euros each will be awarded to partially cover accommodation expenses on the Island of San Servolo. Only students currently enrolled in a formal academic programme are eligible to apply for the scholarships.

Food and Accommodation

Participants will have to pay for their own food and accommodation, but we are able to assist participants to arrange accommodation on the Island of San Servolo for the duration of the Summer School (ideally, check-in should be on 16 July and check-out on 22 July). The price will be 95 euros per night in single room or 150 euros per night in double room (if available). Upon confirmation, participants will be required to pay half the total sum as a non-refundable partial payment.

A buffet breakfast will be served from 7:30 to 10 am at the San Servolo Restaurant at a cost of 7 euros per person, with self-service lunch (12:30 to 2:30 pm) and dinner (7 to 9:30 pm) for 11 euros.

How to Apply

Up to 30 participants will be admitted to the Summer School. Applications can be submitted until 31 March through this online form. If you have further inquiries, please contact us at We will inform applicants whether or not they have been admitted by early April. Some applicants may be called for an interview before a final decision on their application is made.


The Summer School is sponsored by the Australian Centre on China in the World, Australian National University, with additional funding from Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Lund University, University of Sydney, and Venice International University. We also acknowledge the financial assistance of the European Union Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 654852.