Author Archives: Fei Yan

Dynamics of Factional Politics during the Chinese Cultural Revolution

The Chinese Cultural Revolution presents an internecine mass conflict that boasts the largest political upheavals of the 20th century. Insurgent students and workers formed various revolutionary rebel organizations in the summer of 1966, and took over government offices in virtually every provincial-level unit in January 1967. Immediately afterwards, these insurgents broke into rival factions that violently fought with one another in schools, factories, and neighborhoods, leading to anarchy in large parts of China until late 1968. Even in the periphery rural areas where the reach of the state was limited because of the existence of the “honeycomb polity,” political impulses did not weaken. Village residents also extensively involved themselves in the local mass conflicts and many people were killed or wrongly persecuted in factional warfare. Conservative estimates based on official sources suggest that up to 1.5 million people died in these factional conflicts and related repression, and some 36 million suffered arrest, imprisonment, lengthy interrogation, and often torture.

The enduring explanatory puzzle of this intense factional politics lies in the mechanisms and processes of insurgents’ political choice. Continue reading

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China Labor Protests Dataset

With the acceleration of market reforms in the 1990s, the Chinese economy and society underwent a series of major changes. The radical shift of economic system records aggregate GDP growth rate of about 10 percent every year. However, recent waves of mass protest across the country reveal the dark side of China’s economic boom. While citizens’ standards of living are continuing to increase, income inequality has grown to a factor of threat. Individuals belonging to losing groups amidst these wrenching changes have increasingly protested. The number of mass incidents, especially the labor incidents is large and increasing, but the exact number is unknown.

In the absence of official government statistics, I would like to recommend two crowd-mapped data sets on labor strikes in China:

1. China Labour Bulletin

This data set keeps tracking of strikes, protests and other contentious, collective actions taken by Chinese workers to defend their rights and interests. It covers the years 2011 to present and its regular research reports have used Chinese newspapers’ websites, dissident blogs, and information from the organization’s call-in radio show. It is constantly being updated.

2. China Strike

This data set is maintained by a PhD candidate in Political Science at Cornell University. It collects news reports of worker protests between January 1, 2008 and April, 2013, counting more than 800 incidents. According to the instructions, “only contentious, collective actions by workers over workplace issues are included. Thus, land disputes or environmental protests, though important in their own right, are excluded from this site.”

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Can We Trust China’s Official Statistics?

A major concern of students of Chinese politics is the reliability of the Chinese official statistics, especially those from the township and village levels. The quality of the published data might come with a large question mark. Generally, statistics on current issues are collected by the National Bureau of Statistics on special requests of the Party Central Committee and the State Council. Obviously, a local Party cadre can signify local achievements in order to make a favorable impression on his or her superiors, or exaggerate a particular social problem in order to receive more resources. Because none of this process is likely to be available to the public, the exaggerations or errors made in local statistics would thus be aggregated at the national levels. Continue reading

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Occupy Central, 1 July Pro-democracy Demonstration, and Future of Hong Kong

On July 1, the 17th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China, more than 500,000 people held large-scale pro-democracy demonstration in support of universal suffrage and political development in the city. This was the biggest street demonstration in Hong Kong’s history.

The scale of the protests reflects local residents’ anger and frustration at Beijing’s intervention in Hong Kong’s democratic development. As a Special Administrative Region of China, Hong Kong retains “a high degree of autonomy” with its own executive, legislature, and judiciary system under a “one country, two systems” framework. However, in early June, the Chinese government issued a strongly-worded “white paper,” asserting that Hong Kong does not have “full autonomy” and the ultimate power over the city lay with the Beijing authority. A few months earlier, the central government also stressed that the election of the next chief executive in 2017 only allows candidates who “love China,” although it promised Hong Kong could vote for their own leader by universal suffrage in 2017. Continue reading

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