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Living with the revolutionary legacy: Communication, culture and workers' radicalism in Post-Mao China

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Thesis type
(Dissertation) Ph.D.
Date created
Author: Xing, Guoxin
China in the reform era has seen its expanded industrial labour force fragmented along cleavages such as localities, industrial sectors, ownership patterns, gender and generational gap, and above all, a hukou system that creates a deep fissure between urban workers and rural migrant workers. Accordingly, varieties of contending political ideologies have influenced the nature, directions, dynamics and trajectories of labour politics and labor movements in post-Mao China. However, current scholarship in labor studies tends to focus on Chinese workers‘ resistance along with trade unionism and theorize the formation of their insurgent identities in terms of labour and industrial citizenry. This one-dimensional and unilinear liberal perspective often characterizes workers‘ invocations of China‘s revolutionary and Maoist socialist legacies as either the signs of nostalgia or the tactical weapons of struggles for livelihood. This dissertation takes issue with this emergent academic orthodoxy, which purports to bid farewell to China‘s revolutionary and socialist past and declare the end of class in Chinese politics. It foregrounds fragmentary groups of Chinese workers whose class-consciousness is counter-hegemonic and alternative to trade unionism. Drawing on a formational approach to class analysis and foregrounding communication and culture as a pivotal site, this dissertation investigates a sectional posture of Chinese workers‘ autonomous communication activities and their everyday cultural practices of resistance, largely obscured and suppressed by China‘s repressive regime of media representation. The multi-faceted research encompasses fieldwork, discourse analysis and case studies on communicative and cultural activities involving both urban industrial workers and rural migrant workers. The inquiry sheds light onto the continuing relevance of China‘s revolutionary and Maoist socialist legacies to the subjectivity and agency of segments of the Chinese working class. The findings point to contestation, rather than consensus, as the defining feature of working-class subjectivity formation and serve as a caveat for any generalization regarding the nature of labour politics in a deeply fractured post-Mao Chinese society. The dissertation recovers the ―missing links‖ in Chinese political studies, labour studies, and communication studies.
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Thesis advisor: Zhao, Yuezhi
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