CSC China Perspectives series
Edited by Beatriz Carrillo and David S.G. Goodman
Introduction: the sociopolitical challenge of economic change - peasants and workers in transformation
Elizabeth Perry’s description of Shanghai at the turn of the twentieth century could easily be used to describe the city a century later. The Shanghai of the early 1900s was to become the site of China’s incipient organized labour movement, which had a critical influence on the future political configuration of the country. A century later, however, Shanghai is no longer the hub of radical labour politics, though other sites have emerged where the seeds of new labour movements are beginning to sprout. Following the premise that where capital goes labour conflict follows, Guangdong Province – one of China’s most important and dynamic sites of capitalist production – has experienced mounting labour unrest, with workers increasingly aware of and utilizing their collective bargaining power to demand better pay and working conditions. Even though it is impossible to predict whether the workers’ movements that have emerged there and elsewhere in the country will have the same or a similar political impact that the Shanghainese labour movement had a century earlier, it is undeniable that they have already influenced national policy and global production networks. The experience of organized mass labour movements in China and other contexts indicates not only the complexity of the relationship between labour, capital and the state, but also that the Marxist historical linearity – by which workers eventually achieve emancipation to become the masters of their own world – is anything but linear.