The Politics & Society Spoke is concerned with local-level China, including the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Taiwan, and other Sinophone societies. Local-level practices and institutions are important because they influence practices and institutions at national and international levels. Constructive engagement with organisations and individuals at any level depends upon understanding the habits and informal but binding rules that shape behaviour in particular cultural and political contexts. In short, members of the Politics & Society Spoke study the organising principles of Chinese societies.
Social organisations and associations are themselves central objects of our research. Members of the Politics & Society Spoke investigate how, for example, lineages, labour unions, private enterprises, patronage networks, mass organisations, or diasporic communities are structured and interact with the broader society in which they operate.
Local China echoes in Global China. Social movements and social justice within the PRC are not purely domestic matters, but rather have wide-reaching global implications: every Apple iPhone is stamped with the conditions of the factories where it was made. Overseas, the Belt and Road Initiative is already having economic and political reverberations in target countries and beyond.
Public discourse too often defaults to a ‘China threat’ narrative, cutting off opportunities for positive engagement as well as obscuring any genuine dangers that may exist. Spoke projects seek to explain big-picture events and trajectories through a nuanced understanding of social organisation at the grassroots.
The Politics & Society Spoke provides funding to support relevant research, collaborative projects, and community/stakeholder engagement. It encourages and funds the development of pedagogical methods and structures, with a core objective to advance Chinese Studies at the ANU.
The current Politics & Society Spoke coordinator is Dr Ivan Franceschini. This role may rotate every two years or as decided by the CIW Director in consultation with members.
Australian Centre on China in the World
Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, College of Asia & the Pacific
School of Culture, History & Language, College of Asia & the Pacific
Visiting Scholar, Peking University
Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, College of Asia & the Pacific
• Made in China Journal: The Made in China Journal is an open-access publication on labour, civil society, and human rights in China published in collaboration with ANU Press (all issues are available at this link). The publication was founded in 2016 with the belief that spreading awareness of the complexities and nuances underpinning socioeconomic change in contemporary Chinese society is important, especially considering how in today’s globalised world Chinese labour issues have reverberations well beyond national borders. The initiative rests on two pillars: the conviction that today more than ever it is necessary to bridge the gap between the scholarly community and the general public, and the related belief that open access is necessary to ethically reappropriate academic research from commercial publishers who restrict the free circulation of ideas. The Made in China Journal is available open access at https://madeinchinajournal.com.
• Afterlives of Chinese Communism: Co-edited by Ivan Franceschini, Nicholas Loubere, and Christian Sorace, the volume Afterlives of Chinese Communism comprises essays from over fifty scholars in the China field, from various disciplines and continents. It provides an indispensable guide for understanding how the Mao era continues to shape Chinese politics today. Each chapter discusses a concept or practice from the Mao period, what it attempted to do, and what has become of it since. The authors respond to the legacy of Maoism from numerous perspectives to consider what lessons Chinese communism can offer today, and whether there is a future for the egalitarian politics that it once promised. The book is available for purchase from Verso Books or can be downloaded for free at https://press.anu.edu.au/publications/afterlives-chinese-communism.
• Interactive Map of Global China: This map aims to track the complex and rapidly changing development of this consequential and controversial global initiative by engaging an equally global civil society. Using an interactive, open access, and online ‘map’ format, we will invite and coordinate non-governmental organisations, journalists, trade unions, academics, and the public at large to provide updated and updatable information on various dimensions of BRI projects taking place in their localities. This bottom-up initiative will provide a necessary and democratic platform for the articulation of public and local voices often marginalised by political and business elites, national governments, or Northern media outlets. The map will be created in collaboration with Lund University, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and several civil society organisations.
• Funny Money and Political Authority in China Publication Workshop: This project includes a publication workshop that brought together leading and up-and-coming Sinologists from diverse disciplinary backgrounds to focus on the problem of ‘funny money’, and its effect on political authority in contemporary China. ‘Funny’ money is money that is non-legal—somehow tainted, but neither clearly illegal nor definitively legal. Funny money is so important and pervasive in China that it often goes unremarked. Many ordinary people make their livelihoods transacting in funny money; it lubricates the machinery of state, society, and the underworld. Funny money is inherently political but it has no specific political orientation. It may, for instance, be a tool of domination or a tool of resistance to domination. This ambivalence makes funny money worthy of closer academic scrutiny.
• Chinese Labour History Book Project: In 2021, the Chinese Communist Party will celebrate a century of existence. From the Party’s humble beginnings in Shanghai in 1921 to its current position of global power, one thing has not changed for China’s leaders: their claim to represent the vanguard of the Chinese working class. From the night classes for railway workers organised by student activists in Beijing in the 1910s, to the worker struggles during the Civil War of the 1920s and 1930s; from the turmoils of the Cultural Revolution, to the social convulsions of the Reform Era and up to China’s new global push today; this book will reconstruct the contentious history of labour in China from the early twentieth century to the present, becoming a must-read for anyone with an interest in Chinese politics and society.
• Xinjiang Book Project: Since 2017, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has locked an estimated million and a half Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in reeducation camps situated all over the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Among the victims are not only common people from all walks of life, but also public intellectuals, artists, and politicians whose only commonality was their belonging to beleaguered Muslim minorities. Carried out in the name of ‘anti-extremism’, this campaign has been denounced in the Western press as a form of cultural genocide. Through contributions by scholars from all over the world, this book deepens the discussion of this process of elimination and replacement, highlighting the historical legacies, colonial structures, and international complicities that have made this situation possible.
Joining The Australian National University in 2015, Dr Ivan Franceschini is an expert on labour and civil society in China. As an erudite and open-minded scholar, he also takes great interest in Chinese classical literature and is a documentary filmmaker.
In recent years, China’s global push has presented the international community with new opportunities and challenges. In particular, the rapid influx of Chinese outbound investment into a variety of industries has been seen as either a blessing or a curse. Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative has been especially controversial since its announcement in 2013.
Formal opening: Dr Jane Golley, Director, Australian Centre on China in the World
Keynote address: Dr Sara Hsu (China Rising Capital Forecast)
Shadow banking in China as “funny money”
Hong Kong has been in turmoil since March. What originally began as a protest against the new extradition bill quickly escalated into a massive popular movement calling for more democracy and an independent investigation of police brutality.
What are the root causes, dynamics, and prospects of the democracy movement in Hong Kong? Join four Hong Kong academics at this public forum to hear their testimonies after months of extensive research on the ground.
This event is coordinated by Ivan Franceschini and Anita Chan at The Australian National University.
What lessons can we garner from the past incarnations of the labour movement in China? What is the predicament of labour activists in the increasingly authoritarian China of today? And what challenges lie ahead for Chinese workers? To answer these questions, the Made in China Journal is hosting a three-part webinar series on the past, present, and future of labour in China.