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China Scholarship Digest #15

A monthly list of new China-related academic research.

Articles published in September 2022

69 journals scanned

134 articles from 22 journals found

Chinese Studies

Journal of Contemporary China

"This study...examine how...‘relational punishment’ operates in China today as part of the nation-wide Social Credit Blacklist System. The authors first trace the history of blacklisting as a governance tool...then illustrates how the state’s symbolic campaign encourages the ostracization of blacklisted people. However, this power has its limits. People commonly differentiate the character of blacklisted people with contextual and relational information, constructing alternative meanings for individuals thus labelled, therefore undermining the reach and influence of the Blacklist System.

Comment: the Chinese state is using blacklists to name and shame certain behaviours as part of its social credit system. This study highlights the limitations that the state faces, especially because average Chinese don't just swallow the state-imposed labels, but reflect critically on them. This brings to mind class labels in the Mao era the fluidity and ambiguity of which highlight the way that individuals engage with state-imposed categories in diverse, and often subversive, ways.
"The COVID-19 pandemic intensified unfavorable international news coverage of the Chinese Government with consequences for the Chinese diaspora broadly...we find a significant negative impact of the Chinese Government’s early handling of COVID-19 on public sentiment toward the Chinese Government in Australia but not in the United States... overall, holding cold attitudes toward the Chinese Government has stronger negative implications for diasporic Chinese in Australia."
"Nationalist narratives and geopolitical reality have played an opposite role in shaping China’s engagement with the Arctic...Chinese nationalist narratives on strong feelings of love for and pride in the Chinese nation not only initiated but also facilitated China’s engagement with the Arctic. Moreover, the ‘China Dream’, an official narrative put forward by the Chinese President Xi Jinping, has driven the country to undertake proactive measures to engage with the Arctic, among others, including self-ascribing China as a ‘Near-Arctic State’ and self-designating the ‘Polar Silk Road’. In stark contrast, however, the geopolitical reality featured by Arctic countries’ policies to push back China’s activities in this region has stymied its ambition to attain great power status in the Arctic."

Comment: China's encounter in the Arctic is yet another example of nationalist ambitions running aground on the reef of geopolitical realities.

China Quarterly

"Since the early 2010s, a low-profile “dig deep and reach wide” campaign led by local Chinese Communist Party (CCP) committees has unprecedently institutionalized and embedded academic opinions into the regimes’ decision-making processes. This research...argues that the local Party committees’ incentives to incorporate academic opinions into their information channels are not only a reaction to the central CCP's increasing need to “reach wide” for high-quality and critical policy proposals but are also a move to seek political endorsement from the central authorities. This process has transformed government–academic relations in China from a patron-client model to one of increasing interdependence in which Chinese academia has become increasingly attuned to the thinking and needs of the CCP."

Comment: the relationship between the Communist Party and Chinese intellectuals has always been fraught. This article helps us think about the possible direction of this relationship under Xi Jinping. As the space for intellectual freedom continues to shrink in China, what does the future hold for Chinese intellectuals and their academies?
"Fifty years after the current “one China” framework emerged in international politics, the cross-Taiwan Strait “one China” dispute has transformed from its historical nature of indivisible sovereignty. As Taipei has stopped competing internationally to represent “China” since 1991, Beijing now worries that compromising its “one-China principle” in cross-Strait reconciliation would enhance Taiwan's separate statehood internationally and enable the island to push towards de jure independence. In contrast, Taipei worries that any perceived concessions on the question of “one China” would enhance China's sovereignty claim over Taiwan and enable Beijing to push for unification coercively with fewer concerns about international backlash. Improved cross-Strait relations thus rely on circumventing this quintessential commitment problem in international politics."
"three seminal 1970s developments consolidated the “one China” framework as an informal institution of international politics. The ambiguity baked in by Cold War-era geopolitical necessity provided flexibility sufficient to enable diplomatic breakthroughs between erstwhile adversaries, but also planted seeds for deepening contestation and frictions today. Recent developments – especially Taiwan's democratization and Beijing's increasingly bold and proactive assertion of its claim to sovereignty over Taiwan – have transformed incentive structures in Taipei and for its major international partners. The net effect is that the myth of “consensus” and the ambiguities enabling the framework's half-century of success face unprecedented challenges today."
"This article presents a qualitative empirical study of elite collusion and its influence on village elections and rural land development in China. Drawing on ethnographic data collected from two Chinese villages, it investigates how village cadres collude with other rural elites, using bribery, gift-giving and lavish banquets, to establish reciprocal ties with township officials and other public officials. Meanwhile, the officials make use of formal organizations to corruptly obtain profits and form alliances with village elites. The article examines how rural elites, especially village cadres, use this collusion to profit from the misuse of villagers’ collectively owned assets, the manipulation of village elections and the suppression of anti-corruption protests. It also offers new descriptive evidence of how recent reforms designed to strengthen the Party's overall leadership in rural governance may have actually facilitated elite capture and grassroots corruption."
"Recent reforms to China's People's Armed Police have changed the balance of authority between central and local officials, continuing a pattern of reduced local control and granting more authority to Xi Jinping in his role as Central Military Commission chairman. The new system, however, attempts to balance central control with provisions that allow local officials down to the prefecture level to take command in some circumstances. This system intends to allow for rapid mobilization in cases of social unrest or natural disasters, although a review of emergency response plans and other Chinese sources indicates uneven implementation. The risk is that centralization could slow emergency response, although the effects will depend on the nature of civil–military coordination at different levels. The paper describes new legal authorities, assesses implementation and challenges, and reaches conclusions about the implications for Chinese political control and emergency response."
"The watershed in modern Chinese politics known as the May Fourth Movement (1919) offers insights into how a single protest event can quickly diffuse to other regions, draw in new participants and produce legacies in contentious politics. This article examines the May Fourth protests from the perspective of “eventful sociology” – an approach that examines how protests, repression and other contingent events link together to bring about landmark political episodes. It traces the sequence of protest and repression events in Beijing and draws on an original database of protest and repression events in Shanghai to emphasize the haphazard sequencing of actions and information flows that led the Chinese government to reverse its stance and concede to protestors’ demands. An eventful account illustrates how past protest sequences can produce a long-term impact on subsequent protest events. It also calls for greater awareness of “single sparks” that initiate protest sequences and unexpected political outcomes."

Comment: "a single spark can start a prairie fire" 星星之火,可以燎原 is an old Chinese saying. One may know that the prairie is dry and primed for a conflagration and yet not know where the starting spark may come from. Simply, predicting the future is a haphazard affair if not all together impossible.

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