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China, labor resistance, 1989–2009

Au Loong-Yu and Bai Ruixue


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In contemporary China, no sustained labor movement has emerged in the strict sense of the term, namely, an organized social movement initiated from below aimed at the redistribution of national income for the benefit of labor, or power sharing. The reasons for the absence of a militant labor movement in the early twenty-first century contrast with previous historical periods. The authoritarianism of the one-party state remains the most important factor throughout all the periods of leadership under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), but there were also significant differences between the Mao period (1949–76) and the Deng/post-Deng period (1979–2009). In the former period, especially after 1956, workers were granted the title of zhurenweng (masters of the house); as “the leading class” in “socialist China,” they were seen by the party as the incarnation of “socialist industrialization.” The working class was the primary social force that the party had to rely on in the fight against “revisionism” or “capitalist restoration.” These titles must be heavily qualified by the fact that the workers, like the peasants, did not enjoy basic political freedoms, let alone genuine democratic rights to elect their workplace managers, trade union leadership, or their national leaders. In their daily lives the honorary title of zhurenweng meant little to workers, who day in and day out had to ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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