Seeing through Muddied Waters, Part 1: Jasic, Strikes & Unions

Seeing through Muddied Waters, Part 1: Jasic, Strikes & Unions

Image: Bobby Yip1 Commentators ranging from academic celebrities such as Noam Chomsky and Slavoj Zizek to some of the world’s top China labor scholars have hailed “the Jasic Conflagration” as an event of “historic significance” or even “the most important labor conflict to occur in China in the past decade.” But what was this event, exactly? For many, the Jasic Struggle refers primarily to a (fictional) “strike” at a welding equipment plant in Shenzhen last summer. More realistically, it could refer to the efforts of several employees there to form a union, their protests at the factory gates demanding reinstatement after they were fired, and the initial days of unusually politicized protest against the police after they were arrested briefly on July 20th until they and a couple dozen supporters were placed under criminal detention.2 More broadly, it could be expanded (sometimes as “the Jasic Movement”) to include the months-long, nationwide support campaign that snowballed in response to those events and subsequent waves of repression. The campaign involved Marxist student organizations at some of China’s top universities, networks of elderly Maoists, and at least a few politically minded workers. Key events have been documented in detail elsewhere,3 but a comprehensive and frank account may have to wait until the dust has settled just to get the facts straight, let alone glean any political lessons from all of this. The scale of the repression, while not unprecedented, is certainly severe. Placing it alongside the more recent (January, March and May) multi-city, apparently coordinated raids on at least five left-wing labor groups and media platforms, with members from at least four...
Winter is Coming: China 2018-2019 (Wildcat)

Winter is Coming: China 2018-2019 (Wildcat)

Image: Alamy Updated translation of “China: Der Winter kommt” from issue #103 (February 2019) of the German magazine Wildcat. We publish this as the first in a series of blog posts attempting to grapple with events and trends in China over the past year, on which we’ve remained silent partly because we were busy finishing up the second issue of our journal, and partly because we weren’t sure how to address some of these thorny issues. We find this article an excellent overview of the past year’s events, and thus a good starting point for our own engagement. It is the second part of a series, the first focusing on the Jasic struggle (which we will address in some of our upcoming posts). We look forward to the third part, which will explore economic trends in more depth. “The economic winter is coming!” What was only occasionally heard from bankers in the summer of 2018 is now widespread table talk and the signs are everywhere and numerous: Employees were sent on unpaid holidays over the Spring Festival [i.e. Chinese New Year in January-February 2019], car sales collapsed last year for the first time in 28 years and have been declining for almost a year now, retail is weakening, venture capital is withdrawing, exports are sinking, trade war… The Chinese growth model of recent decades is coming to an end. “2019 won’t be a good year to buy an apartment or a car,” my colleagues say, “because we can’t predict how prices will change—and how long we’ll still have our jobs.” Even the powerful Chinese Central Bank was unable to...
Tiananmen Square & the March into the Institutions

Tiananmen Square & the March into the Institutions

Image: Catherine Henriette/AFP/Getty Excerpt from “Red Dust,” part 2 of our economic history of modern China, from Frontiers, the second issue of the Chuǎng journal. Print copies of Frontiers are currently being distributed to our sustainers and will soon be for sale via AK Press. The complete contents will also be published on our website for free this summer. By the mid-1980s, a small but increasing number of urbanites had broken out of the iron rice bowl of the danwei (state work unit) system, with its guaranteed employment and state grain rations, jumping into new opportunities created by an expanding urban consumer market. Small business was encouraged by the state to fulfill increasing demand. Shops opened up all over Beijing, for example, selling cheap goods usually produced by the TVE (township and village enterprise) sector and/or by new migrant labor, such as workers from Wenzhou who produced popular leather jackets in small, family-run businesses in Beijing’s Zhejiang Village. In Haidian, Beijing’s university district in the northwest of the city, the morning brought a train of peasants on donkey-drawn carts carrying produce to sell on the open market. Street vendors also proliferated, creating a much more vibrant nightlife in the city. Families started privately run restaurants by breaking holes in the walls separating the sidewalk from small danwei buildings. Customers stepped through the hole in the wall into a restaurant that focused on serving good food marketed to changing urban tastes, markedly different from the bland taste of state-run restaurants with terrible service. This was the point at which marketization could clearly be seen to be transforming the fundamental spaces...
Unionists vs. the union: letters from the July 20th Incident in Pingshan

Unionists vs. the union: letters from the July 20th Incident in Pingshan

Over the past week, activist and leftist corners Chinese social media have again exploded in courageous demonstrations of solidarity for a group of workers and their supporters being persecuted by the twin hands of capital and the local state, this time in Pingshan District, Shenzhen. There, at an industrial equipment plant owned by Jasic Technology, a group of workers had begun organizing an enterprise-level union in June. Although they say the district-level branch of the ACFTU (All-China Federation of Trade Unions) had granted them permission to do this and they had acted according to instructions, on July 12th two officials from the branch came to the plant and, together with Jasic managers, accused the organizers of illegal union activity. Over the following week, three of the unionist workers were physically assaulted inside the plant by company thugs and eventually fired. On July 20th, the fired workers tried to go into work anyway but were assaulted first by plant security and then by police, who took them into custody. About twenty other workers and outside supporters went to the police station to protest, and they too were assaulted by the police and taken into custody. This has become known as “the July 20th Pingshan Incident.” Over the following ten days, in addition to an explosion of online support (apparently more broad-based and faster growing than recent comparable campaigns), dozens of supporters came in person to Pingshan from throughout the region. These included Shen Mengyu, the university graduate who worked on an assembly line at an auto parts plant in Guangzhou for three years until she was recently fired for trying...
“Let the People Themselves Decide Whether We’re Guilty”

“Let the People Themselves Decide Whether We’re Guilty”

Update on the “Eight Young Leftists” persecuted by Guangzhou police last winter, analysis of their case, and translation of Huang Liping’s open letter. — On November 15th of last year, police from the Xiaoguwei Subdistrict of Guangzhou stormed into a reading group at the Guangdong University of Technology, seizing six of its participants. Two of them, Zhang Yunfan and Ye Jianke, were held at the Panyu District Detention Center for a month as suspects for the crime of “gathering crowds to disrupt social order” (聚众扰乱社会秩序罪), along with two other people involved in the reading group, who were later seized at their residences: Zheng Yongming (on December 5th) and Sun Tingting (on December 8th). After prominent intellectuals circulated a petition, all four detainees were released on bail awaiting trial. Four other members of the reading group (Huang Liping, Xu Zhongliang, Han Peng and Gu Jiayue) went into hiding when their names appeared on a police wanted list. Still other participants were repeatedly harassed by police and university authorities, and some of the students involved had their scholarships revoked. In January, we published translations of open letters by three of these “Eight Young Leftists” (左翼八青年),[1] as they became known in the campaign supporting them in mainland China and Hong Kong: Zhang Yunfan, Sun Tingting and Zheng Yongming. International news media picked up the story, and the campaign spread to other languages. Eventually the police seemed to have given up on the case, but the situation was not clear, so we hesitated to follow up. Then, a couple weeks ago, one of our readers sent us a translation of another open letter—the...
Fear and Loathing in “the Pacified South”: Conspiracies and SEZs in Vietnam

Fear and Loathing in “the Pacified South”: Conspiracies and SEZs in Vietnam

Image: Protesters marching in downtown Saigon. The front banner reads, "Do not give the SEZs to Red China [Trung Cộng], not even for one day." Source: Kao Nguyen / AFP   From 111 BCE to 968 CE the territory around contemporary Hanoi was ruled by northern (“Chinese”) empires as “An Nam đô hộ phủ” (安南都護府): “the Protectorate General to Pacify the South.” Recently, the political memory of this “thousand years of northern occupation” (Nghìn năm bắc thuộc) has been reborn as an independent political force. On Sunday June 10th, popular opposition to planned Special Economic Zones erupted into massive nationwide protests. As of this writing, the SEZs have been postponed for “further research.” Nevertheless, this is the latest in a series of events that prove this insurgent popular nationalism is increasingly an obstacle, rather than an asset, to the ruling Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) and its development schemes. In this post, Đã Thành Đồ Sơn digs below the surface to contextualize recent events in terms of widespread Vietnamese Sinophobia. A longer article in the forthcoming second issue of the Chuang journal will provide more background on this Sinophobia in the complex history of relations between these two polities. — 长期稳定 – Trường kỳ ổn định — Long term stability 面向未来- Diện hướng vị lai — Facing toward the future 睦邻友好- Mục lân hữu hảo — Neighborly relations 全面合作- Toàn diện hợp tác — Comprehensive cooperation   — “The 16 golden words,” meant to guide the renewal Sino-Vietnamese relations since 1990   The plan for three new SEZs has been public since as early as May 2017, when Nguyễn Chí Dũng gave an interview...