The China Journal (no.90) part 2: the unseen China

In my previous blog, I highlighted three compelling articles from the July 2023 issue (no.90) of The China Journal, which shed light on Hong Kong studies. Today, we are excited to introduce the remaining three articles that offer a unique perspective on China, revealing its unseen side.

Disclaimer: The following blog post represents the views and analysis of the author. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of The China Journal’s editorial office.

Article: China’s Extreme Inequality: The Structural Legacies of State Socialism

China has been grappling with an ongoing economic crisis within its own borders, and it has been a topic of discussion in recent years. China’s impressive economic growth over the past four decades. I has become the second-largest economy globally. However, there are negative consequences, including a significant gap between the wealthy and the less privileged.

Professor Andrew Walder, a respected expert on China from Stanford University, has examined this issue of inequality in China. His research focuses on two main questions: why has China, after many years of rapid economic development, ended up with such a high concentration of wealth and income? And why has the government, which possesses a strong financial capacity and control over national assets, been unable to address this problem effectively?

This article delves into the reasons behind the extreme inequality in China. Professor Walder examines China’s systems of state ownership, taxation, finance, and distribution of money. He argues that these systems are designed to ensure government control over the economy and maintain the power of the Communist Party. However, they also unintentionally contribute to the worsening of inequality. For example, the government supports a large state sector with subsidies and financial assistance. The financial sector is predominantly dominated by government-owned banks. The tax system heavily relies on production scale. In simpler terms, it seems that deliberate choices made by the government have led to this inequality.

In summary, this article provides a clear understanding of the problem of extreme inequality in China. I strongly recommend to have this article listed as an essential reading for China political economy course.

Article: Innovating Penal Labour: Re-education, Forced Labour, and Coercive Social Integration in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region

The human rights situation in Xinjiang has received significant coverage in Western media. However, many reports rely on intelligence information. Dr. Adrian Zenz, a renowned expert on Xinjiang, examines the Vocational Skills Education and Training Centres (VSETCs) in China and how they have transformed into re-education and forced labour camps in Xinjiang.

Dr. Zenz reveals that the combination of VSETC re-education programs and labour assignments in market-driven private and state-owned non-prison enterprises represents a significant departure from previous labour reform systems in China. The Xinjiang VSETCs have evolved from these reforms. Instead of following the Maoist labour reform model, this system has specific and distinct phases. Each phase has a specific objective. The VSETCs focus on intensive re-education, while market-driven non-prison enterprises prioritise profiting from labour.

While this is a sensitive topic, Dr. Zenz has conducted thorough research and analysis to support his claims. By employing a historical analysis of labour reform during the Maoist era, he demonstrates how these policies are applied in the context of Xinjiang today. Overall, this article provides valuable insights for studying the Xinjiang issue in recent years.

Article: The Making of the Landless Landlord Peasant: Government Policy and the Development of Villages-in-the-City in Shanghai and Guangzhou

China has undergone rapid urbanisation over the past four decades. This has led to the emergence of a significant population of landless peasants as their lands are being collected. To address this issue, the Chinese government introduced the concept of ‘urban villages’ (城中村). Dr. Saul Wilson’s study examines the development of urban villages in two specific cases: Guangzhou and Shanghai.

The author compares these two cities. He notes that Guangzhou has a larger number of urban villages and powerful village collectives, while Shanghai has fewer villages within the city or village collectives due to earlier urban development. Wilson argues that these have led to diverse outcomes in terms of physical structures, institutional frameworks, and resource distribution in urban village policy. Particularly, different municipal policies aimed at urbanising peasants in distinct ways. These urbanisation policies, although influenced by historical factors and local culture, were also subject to sudden changes driven by the ideas of municipal leaders.

This article provides valuable insights into the concept of urban villages. The topic might be unfamiliar to many readers, but it is worth reading. A noteworthy aspect of the study is the extensive use of primary archival resources. This contributes to an engaging and informative narrative. Overall, this article offers an interesting perspective on the development of urban villages in China’s urbanisation process.

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