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  • The Social Question as the Struggle over Precarity: The Case of China

    Ching Kwan Lee

    Chapter from the book: Breman, J et al. 2019. The Social Question in the Twenty-First Century: A Global View.


    This essay offers a stylized account of the trajectory of precarious labor in China over the past seven decades and identifies the various contested terrains constitutive of its politics. I define “precarity” not as a thing-like phenomenon with fixed attributes but as relational struggles over the recognition, regulation and reproduction of labor. For each of the three periods of contemporary Chinese development, i.e. the Mao era of state socialism 1949-1979, the high- growth market reform era 1980 –2010, and the current era of slow growth and overcapacity since around 2010, I analyze the political economic drivers of precarity -- from state domination to class exploitation and then to exclusion, indebtedness and dispossession -- and worker’s changing capacity and interest to contest it.

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    How to cite this chapter
    Lee, C. 2019. The Social Question as the Struggle over Precarity: The Case of China. In: Breman, J et al (eds.), The Social Question in the Twenty-First Century. California: University of California Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/luminos.74.e

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    Published on July 30, 2019