Edited by Teresa Wright
Chapter 10: Thinking like a state: doing labor activism in South China
Since economic reforms were introduced in the late 1970s, China has undergone significant political, economic, and social transformations. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP)- led government has encountered massive student-led protests, outlasted both Eastern European and Soviet variants of communism, and weathered ethnic riots. Despite numerous predictions of its impending demise and anticipation of political liberalization, the CCP has remained in power. What intrigues as well as confounds many China observers is not only the absence of liberal democratic change in the country but also the fact that the Chinese Communist regime has become increasingly adept at managing challenges posed by leadership succession, popular unrest, administrative reorganization, legal institutionalization, and integration in the global economy. Without doubt, China’s economic growth and lack of political liberalization have come at a great cost. Ordinary Chinese citizens are deprived of civil liberties. The absence of democratic restraints has contributed to cadre corruption, labor exploitation, poor consumer protection, environmental degradation, and increasing socioeconomic inequality. The “interplay of repression and resistance” animates and dominates the popular imagination of the political situation in China. But these stories mask the more nuanced face of the Chinese Communist regime. Coercion is not a staple of daily political life. As Stern and Hassid point out, less than 1 percent of the activists in China are severely punished or imprisoned. What makes the repressive Chinese Communist system so resilient? How does the Chinese state secure compliance from the governed? How does the regime maintain quiescence among individual activists and organizations? These questions address widespread concerns about how China can continue its economic growth without political reform.
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