Where to Begin: New Perspectives on Chinese Labor

Mark Frazier, Professor of Chinese Politics and Associate Professor of International and Area Studies at the University of Oklahoma, offers some reading suggestions for those seeking to understand more about China’s situation. From the China Beat:

A January 2010 London Review of Books article by Perry Anderson hailed Ching Kwan Lee’s Against the Law: Labor Protests in China’s Rustbelt and Sunbelt (University of California Press, 2007) with this accolade: “Although quite different in mode and scale, in power nothing like it has appeared since E.P. Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class.” Thompson’s 1966 classic on late 17th-, early 18th-century England brought to light the cultural contestation and repertoires of resistance as the moral economy of artisans and their guilds gave way to the mass production and mechanization of industrial capitalism. In Against the Law, C.K. Lee explores the moral economies and resistance of Chinese workers in two domains: first among the socialist working class in the state sector of the Northeast (the “rustbelt”), where the dismantling of the iron rice bowl brought an end to the social contract of job security and lifetime benefits, including housing. Lee compares the unmaking of the state socialist working class with the making of a new working class in the foreign-invested export sector of the South (the “sunbelt”). Here, migrant workers invoke the state’s new labor legislation and pursue claims to rights protection and equal citizenship, in the face of widespread legal and social discrimination stemming from the household registration system (hukou).

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