Handbooks of Research on Contemporary China series
Edited by Yingjie Guo
Chapter 17: Working class re-formation and de-formation in the PRC
After decades on the analytical sidelines during the Maoist era, labour politics has roared back into the limelight in the last two decades. A now rich scholarly literature has focused on political economy, labour conditions, the state, and contentious politics. But the welcome return of Chinese workers has proceeded without much attention to a foundational question that underpins them all: the nature of the working class. Moreover, much research has not put labour politics under the structural reforms into the historical context that class analysis demands. Working class formation involves the complex, contingent processes by which individual or small groups of workers are knit together into a collectivity larger than the sum of its parts – one which is not just a congeries of people who must work for a wage, but also a collectivity of people who, variously, experience similar social lives and structures, develop shared cultural dispositions, and engage in political organization and mobilization grounded in the collective economic, social and cultural structures and processes of class. The Chinese working class formed between the very late nineteenth century and the establishment of the People’s Republic in 1949. Farmers were dragged out of their rural communities and thrown together in cities and factories where they suffered terrible exploitation and social oppression and dislocation.
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