2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 161

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Dynamics of Evolving State-Society Relations in Contemporary China: Historical, Political, and Social Perspectives

Organizer: Lu Zhang, Temple University, USA

Chair: HoFung Hung, Johns Hopkins University, USA

Discussant: HoFung Hung, Johns Hopkins University, USA

Market reforms in Post-Mao China have shattered many old structures and beliefs that had been the basis of social order in socialist China. While the ethos of capitalism has provided much of the driving force behind China’s phenomenal economic growth, it has also undermined the socialist ideology and the “social contract” on which the party-state established its legitimacy. This panel brings together scholars from sociology, history, and political science to explore the following questions: What rhetoric and mechanisms has the state reinvented to redefine and rebuild the state-society relations? How have different actors, including intellectuals, workers, rural women, and local officials, pursued contradictory interests and goals during this transformation? To what extent has bargaining at the central, local, workplace and family levels reshaped state-society relations? Martin Fromm investigates the “wenshi ziliao” (literary and historical materials) project, by which the state mobilized personal memories to re-energize grassroots participation in the Four Modernizations campaign and to re-forge state-society connections in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution. Kelvin Cheung looks at the proposed democratic models with Chinese characteristics and analyzes the rationale behind and their implications for China state-society relations. Li Ke focuses on the local state’s negotiation and articulation of a dispute settlement system and its impact on rural women’s experiences of marital disputes. Lu Zhang investigates the emergence and expansion of labor dispatch and institutionalization of labor force dualism as the state re-draws boundaries among its working population to strike a balance between maintaining legitimacy and promoting labor flexibility and profitability.

Creating Memories Along the Sino-Russian Border: The Blagoveschensk Massacre and the Post-Mao Politics of “Wenshi Ziliao” Production
Martin Fromm, Worcester State University, USA

In the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution, the post-Mao state sought to bring about national healing and political re-consolidation while reconciling the party’s rifted Communist identity with market reforms. One important site at which this process took place was the “wenshi ziliao” (literary and historical materials) project, in which the state mobilized local and personal memories to re-energize grassroots participation in the Four Modernizations campaign while enclosing those voices within a unified national framework. This presentation examines that process through the lens of an ideologically charged site of memory production, that of Chinese migrant enterprise and Sino-Russian border violence in former northern Manchuria at the turn of the last century. It explores the intricate relationship between eyewitness survivor accounts collected at the height of Sino-Russian border conflict in the early to mid 1960s, and the editing and publication of those testimonies within the transformed economic and political context of early post-Mao reforms. It argues that the juxtaposition between survivors’ accounts of expansive migrant enterprise and frontier settlement, and the editor’s reframing of their meaning in terms of the dichotomy between Chinese victim and imperialist aggressor, simultaneously exposed and contained the contradictions within the post-Mao state’s imperatives of political re-consolidation and economic liberalization. The processes by which this discourse took shape reveal the complex interactions between official history, personal memory, and state mobilization as they contributed to shaping the early transitional stage of post-Mao reform.

Women and Marital Disputes: The Gendered Politics of Lodging Complaints in Rural China
Ke Li, Indiana University-Bloomington, USA

Taking research on “rightful resistance” (O’Brian and Li 2006) as point of departure, this paper foregrounds rural Chinese women’s struggles with marital disputes, by closely examining their grievances, claims, and help-seeking strategies. And it contends that, at many aspects, women’s disputing experiences significantly deviate from those documented in extant literature on popular discontent in rural China. Rather than taking their needs and wants up with the state, women turn to the market for economic resources and legal assistance as they navigate the grassroots official justice system. Along the way, they come up with a distinct repertoire of goals, resources and tactics. Why are rural women treading a path qualitatively different from that of “rightful resisters”? The paper then addresses this inquiry by looking into the local state’s perspectives and measures in tackling popular discontent amid the increasingly heightened stress on “weiwen” (i.e., maintaining sociopolitical stability). Based on a detailed scrutiny of “renmin tiaojie” (i.e., people’s mediation), a state-sponsored system of extrajudicial dispute settlement, this paper reveals that women’s experiences with marital disputes, and particularly, their preferences of disputing forums and help-seeking strategies are in no small part derived from and react to the local state’s efforts to channel certain disputes and conflicts into people’s mediation while filtering out others. By fleshing out the interconnections between women’s disputing experiences, the rise of market economy and the state’s attempts to remain in control, this paper aims to shed new light on the interplay of gender, politics and law in contemporary China.

Permanent Temps: Labor Dispatch and New Trends in State-Labor Relations in China
Lu Zhang, Temple University, USA

China’s transitions from state socialism to a market economy have changed its state-labor relations profoundly. It has been widely acknowledged that the replacement of the “iron rice bowl” lifetime employment under the work unit (danwei) system with labor contract system marked a fundamental change in state-labor relations in China. Yet less attention has been paid to the rapid expansion and evolving forms of indirect recruitment and employment practice outside the formal labor contract system. This paper investigates the emergence, expansion, characteristics and impacts of labor dispatch (agency employment)—a relatively new form of indirect recruitment and triangular employment relations—in China today. Drawing on in-depth interviews with agency workers and managers at a large labor dispatch agency in Shanghai, as well as managers and formal workers of selected client firms, the paper argues that the institutionalization of new forms of labor force dualism between formal contract workers and agency workers differs from (but overlapping with) the existing dualist labor system based on the rural-urban hukou system. The compromise and the “unintended” consequence of the Labor Contract Law in driving the expansion of labor dispatch reveals a state boundary-drawing strategy among its working population to strike a balance between labor and capital in a way that affords privileges and better welfare to some workers to shore up its legitimacy and denies them to others to facilitate capitalist pursue of labor flexibility and profitability.