The latest issue of Dissent Magazine has a special section dedicated to “China’s 99%,” or laobaixing. Curated by Jeffrey Wasserstrom, it includes articles about women, youth, ethnic minorities, and workers. From Wasserstrom’s introduction, which discusses and dismisses much of the recent conventional wisdom about China:
Given the incredible diversity of China, the strategy of rule sketched out above has never worked for everyone or applied equally to all parts of the country. Many Chinese in rural areas have been frustrated by how long it has taken for the rising tide that was supposed to lift all boats to reach them, and large numbers of members of ethnic groups, most famously Tibetan and Uighurs, have never accepted the mythic notion that in 1949 the Communist Party, whose leaders treated them much like colonized subjects, had gloriously “liberated” all citizens of the People’s Republic of China from foreign control. A third key grievance driving the protests of 1989—anger at corruption and nepotism—has never gone away.
Most recently, an additional challenge has emerged: discontent among many of those who once seemed most ready to accept the post-1989 consumerist bargain, as long as it meant that life kept improving materially. After a series of tainted-food scandals and an ongoing pollution crisis, epitomized by the wretched smog that blanketed many cities this past winter, many who have been doing relatively well materially in recent years are now questioning whether their quality of life really is improving. They hunger for a government they can trust.
How can we move beyond the tendency either to underestimate the resilience of the Chinese Communist Party or fail to understand the important challenges it faces? Helen Gao, Leta Hong Fincher, Alec Ash, and Ross Perlin show us a valuable way to proceed, charting out an alternative path of analysis that will also be explored in later contributions to Dissent, which is committed to publishing similar behind-the-headlines reportage and analysis on China in future issues. These four deeply informed writers pay attention to the attitudes of ordinary people; to individuals who are neither part of the government nor locked into a directly antagonistic relationship to the regime; to women as well as men; to the young as well as the old, keeping in mind that for two thirds of China’s 1.3 billion inhabitants, Chairman Mao has always been dead.
Specific articles include:
– Land of Many Nationalisms by Helen Gao
– Women’s Rights at Risk by Leta Hong Fincher
– China’s Youth: Do They Dare to Care about Politics? by Alec Ash
– Chinese Workers Foxconned by Ross Perlin