Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
Hostname: page-component-cf9d5c678-w9nzq Total loading time: 0.156 Render date: 2021-07-30T08:53:14.374Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true, "newUsageEvents": true }

Precarization or Empowerment? Reflections on Recent Labor Unrest in China

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 March 2016

Abstract

Labor scholars have highlighted the predicament of “precarization” besetting the working class everywhere in the twenty-first century. Beneath the “proletariat” now stands the “precariat,” for whom exploitation seems like a privilege compared to constant exclusion from the labor market. Amidst worldwide employment informalization and decimation of workers’ collective capacity, media reports and academic writings on Chinese workers in the past several years have singularly sustained a curious discourse of worker empowerment. Strikes in some foreign-invested factories have inspired claims of rising working-class power. Finding little empirical support for the empowerment thesis, this article spotlights the Chinese peculiarity of the global phenomenon of precarization and the dynamics of recent strikes, suggesting the need for Chinese labor studies to rebalance its prevailing voluntarism and optimism with more attention to institutional and political-economic conditions.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Association for Asian Studies, Inc. 2016 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

References

Andreas, Joel, and Zhan, Shaohua. 2014. “Hukou Reform and Rural Dispossession in China.” Unpublished manuscript.Google Scholar
Breman, Jan. 2013. “A Bogus Concept.” New Left Review 84:130–39.Google Scholar
Butollo, Florian, and Brink, Tobiasten. 2012. “Challenging the Atomization of Discontent.” Critical Asian Studies 44(3):419–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Chan, Chris, and Ngai, Pun. 2009. “The Making of a New Working-Class? A Study of Collective Action of Migrant Workers in South China.” China Quarterly 198:287303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Chan, Jenny, Ngai, Pun, and Selden, Mark. 2015. “Interns or Workers: China's Student Labor Regime.Asia-Pacific Journal 13(36, no. 1), September 7.Google Scholar
Chan, Jenny, and Selden, Mark. 2014. “China's Rural Migrant Workers, the State and Labor Politics.” Critical Asian Studies 46(4):599620.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Chen, Chih-Jou Jay. 2015. “Zhongguo weiquan zhengti xia de jitikangyi: Taizichang dabagong de anlifenxi” 中国威权政体下的集体抗议:台资厂大罢工的案例分析 [Protest mobilization in an authoritarian regime: A wildcat strike in southern China]. Taiwanese Sociology 30:151.Google Scholar
Chen, Feng, and Tang, Mengxiao. 2013. “Labor Conflicts in China: Typologies and their Implications.” Asian Survey 53(3):559–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
China Labour Bulletin. 2015. “Five Years on, Nanhai Honda Workers Want More from Their Trade Union.” May 20. http://www.clb.org.hk/en/content/five-years-nanhai-honda-workers-want-more-their-trade-union-0 (accessed December 30, 2015).Google Scholar
Chuang, Julia. 2015. “Urbanization through Dispossession: Survival and Stratification in China's New Townships.” Journal of Peasant Studies 42(2):275–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Das, Mitali, and N'Diaye, Papa. 2013. “Chronicle of a Decline Foretold: Has China Reached the Lewis Turning Point?” IMF working paper. International Monetary Fund, https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/wp/2013/wp1326.pdf (accessed December 20, 2015).Google Scholar
Frazier, Mark W. 2014. “State Schemes or Safety Nets? China's Push for Universal Coverage.” Daedalus 143(2):6980.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Friedman, Eli. 2013. “Insurgency and Institutionalization: The Polanyian Countermovement and Chinese Labor Politics.” Theory and Society 42:295327.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Friedman, Eli. 2014. Insurgency Trap: Labor Politics in Postsocialist China. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gallagher, Mary. 2014. “China's Workers Movement and the End of the Rapid-Growth Era.” Daedalus 143(2):8195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gallagher, Mary, Giles, John, Park, Albert, and Wang, Meiyan. 2013. “China's 2008 Labor Contract Law: Implementation and Implications for China's Workers.” Policy Research Working Paper 6542. World Bank, http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/IW3P/IB/2013/07/24/000158349_20130724092209/Rendered/PDF/WPS6542.pdf (accessed December 21, 2015).Google Scholar
Harney, Alexandra, and Ruwitch, John. 2014. “In China, Managers Are the New Labor Activists.” Reuters, May 31. http://www.reuters.com/article/china-labor-strikes-idUSL3N0O929U20140601 (accessed December 30, 2015).Google Scholar
Landesa, . 2012. “Research Report: Summary of 2011 17-Province Survey's Findings.” April 26. www.landesa.org/china-survey-6/ (accessed January 6, 2016).Google Scholar
Lavinas, Lena. 2013. “21st Century Welfare.” New Left Review 84:540.Google Scholar
Lee, Ching Kwan. 2003. “Pathways of Labor Insurgency.” In Chinese Society: Change, Conflict and Resistance, eds. Perry, Elizabeth and Selden, Mark, 7192. 2nd ed.London: RoutledgeCurzon.Google Scholar
Lee, Ching Kwan. 2007. Against the Law: Labor Protests in China's Rustbelt and Sunbelt. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Lee, Ching Kwan, and Zhang, Yonghong. 2013. “The Power of Instability: Unraveling the Microfoundations of Bargained Authoritarianism in China.” American Journal of Sociology 118(6):14751508.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Leung, Pak Nang, and Ngai, Pun. 2009. “The Radicalization of the New Working Class: A Case Study of Collective Action in the Gemstone Industry.” Third World Quarterly 30(3):551–65.Google Scholar
Leung, Parry, and So, Alvin. 2012. “The Making and Remaking of the Working Class in South China.” In Peasants and Workers in the Transformation of Urban China, eds. Carrillo, Beatriz and Goodman, David S. G., 6278. Cheltenham, U.K.: Edward Edgar.Google Scholar
Keqiang, Li. 2013. “Li Keqiang Expounds on Urbanization.” China.org.cn, May 26. http://www.china.org.cn/china/2013-05/26/content_28934485.htm (accessed December 30, 2015).Google Scholar
Li, Li. 2014. “Maxing Out the Minimum Wage.” Beijing Review, June 5. http://www.bjreview.com.cn/nation/txt/2014-06/03/content_622012.htm (accessed December 30, 2015).Google Scholar
Liu, Mingwei. 2011. “‘Where There Are Workers, There Should be Trade Unions’: Union Organizing in the Era of Growing Informal Employment.” In From Iron Rice Bowl to Informalization: Markets, Workers, and the State in a Changing China, eds. Kuruvilla, Sarosh, Lee, Ching Kwan, and Gallagher, Mary, 157–72. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Marx, Karl. 1852. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Marxists Internet Archive, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/18th-brumaire/ch01.htm (accessed December 21, 2015).Google Scholar
Mitchell, Tom, and Sevastopulo, Demetri. 2014. “China Labour Activism: Crossing the Line.” Financial Times, May 7. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/bb0f1c3a-c953-11e3-99cc-00144feabdc0.html#axzz3vpYVoITc (accessed December 30, 2015).Google Scholar
Munck, Ronald. 2013. “The Precariat: A View from the South.” Third World Quarterly 34(5):747–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
National Bureau of Statistics of the People's Republic of China. 2015. “2014 nian quanguo nongmingong jiancediaocha baogao” 2014 年全国农民工监测调查报告 [2014 national migrant workers survey]. http://www.stats.gov.cn/tjsj/zxfb/201504/t20150429_797821.html (accessed November 17, 2015).Google Scholar
Ong, Lynette H. 2014. “State-led Urbanization in China: Skyscrapers, Land Revenue, and ‘Concentrated Villages.’China Quarterly 217:162–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Park, Albert, Wu, Yao, and Du, Yang. 2012. “Informal Employment in Urban China: Measurement and Implications.” Washington, D.C.: World Bank. http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/2012/07/17718498/informal-employment-urban-china-measurement-implications (accessed December 22, 2015).Google Scholar
Perlin, Ross. 2013. “Chinese Workers Foxconned.” Dissent (Spring). http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/chinese-workers-foxconned (accessed December 22, 2015).Google Scholar
Ngai, Pun and Huilin, Lu. 2010. “Unfinished Proletarianization: Self, Anger, and Class Action among the Second Generation of Peasant-Workers in Present-Day China.” Modern China 36(5):493519.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Roberts, Dexter. 2012. “Why China's Factories Are Turning to Temp Workers.” Bloomberg Businessweek, March 8. http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-03-08/why-chinas-factories-are-turning-to-temp-workers (accessed December 20, 2015).Google Scholar
Solinger, Dorothy. 2009. States' Gains, Labor's Losses. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
Standing, Guy. 2011. The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class. London: Bloomsbury Academic.Google Scholar
Su, Yihui. 2010–11. “Student Workers in the Foxconn Empire: The Commodification of Education and Labor in China.Journal of Workplace Rights 15(3–4):341–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tang, Jun, and Fang, Xiu Hong. 2011. “2010–2011: Chengxiangshehui jiuzhuzhedu de wenti yu duice” 2010–2011: 城乡社会救助制度的问题与对策 [Urban and rural social assistance programs, 2010–2011]. In Chinese Society: Analysis and Forecast 2011, 208–17. Beijing: Social Science Academic Press.Google Scholar
Tsinghua Sociology Research Team. 2013. “Duangonghua: Nongmingong jiuyequshi yanjiu” 短工化:农民工就业趋势研究 [Shortening of job tenure: Survey on employment trends among migrant workers]. Tsinghua Sociological Review 6:145.Google Scholar
Wang, Jianhua. 2011. “Hulianwang dongyuan yu daigongchanggongren jitikangzheng” 互联网动员与代工厂工人集体抗争 [Internet mobilization and workers’ collective resistance in subcontractor factories]. Open Times (November):114–28.Google Scholar
Wang, Jianhua, and Shi, Wenbo. 2014. “Zhengduo de didai: Laogong tuanjie, zhidukongjian yu qiyegonghui zhuanxing” 争夺的地带:劳工团结、制度空间与代工厂企业工会转型 [Contested terrains: Labor solidarity, institutional space and the transformation of enterprise unions]. Youth Studies (January):53–61.Google Scholar
Xinhuanet. 2013. “China's Demographic Dividend Disappearing: Expert.” January 28. http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2013-01/28/c_132134304.htm (accessed December 30, 2015).Google Scholar
Xinhuanet. 2014. “China Unveils Landmark Urbanization Plan.” March 16. http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2014-03/16/c_133190495.htm (accessed December 30, 2015).Google Scholar
Xue, Jinjun, Gao, Wenshu, and Guo, Lin. 2014. “Informal Employment and Its Effect on the Income Distribution in Urban China.” China Economic Review 31:8493.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Zhang, Lu. 2015. Inside China's Automobile Factories: The Politics of Labor and Worker Resistance. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Zhang, Q. Forrest. 2015. “Class Differentiation in Rural China: Dynamics of Accumulation, Commodification and State Intervention.” Journal of Agrarian Change 15(3):338–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Zhang, Q. Forrest, and Donaldson, John A.. 2010. “From Peasants to Farmers: Peasant Differentiation, Labor Regimes and Land-Rights Institutions in China's Agrarian Transition.” Politics and Society 38(4):458–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Zhao, Wei. 2013. “Between the Party/State and Workers: Development of Labor NGOs in China.” Unpublished manuscript, Beijing Normal University.Google Scholar
Zhou, Feizhou. 2007. “Shengcaiyoudao: Tudi kaifazhuanrang zhong de zhengfu yu nongmin” 生财有道:土地开发转让中的政府与农民 [Wealth creation: Land transfer and changing state-peasant relations]. Sociological Research 1:4982.Google Scholar
50
Cited by

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Precarization or Empowerment? Reflections on Recent Labor Unrest in China
Available formats
×

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Precarization or Empowerment? Reflections on Recent Labor Unrest in China
Available formats
×

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Precarization or Empowerment? Reflections on Recent Labor Unrest in China
Available formats
×
×

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *