Dossier Politics

Protesting in early 21st century China

by Émilie Frenkiel & Chloé Froissart , 7 March 2013

In order to better grasp protests and social movements in China, whose number has impressively swollen in recent years, Books&Ideas presents a dossier on the evolution of social mobilization and on the representation of social instability in this country.

For almost two decades, the number of protests has been steadily increasing in China, now officially assessed as reaching 180,000 a year. Although more social categories are involved in protests, three main issues have aroused collective mobilization most prominently: labour, land requisition and environment. China has been witnessing the rise of a proto-public sphere with the development of online protests as well as a transgressive online culture. These mounting struggles for freedom, social justice and rule of law all provide new and substantial challenges to regime stability and authority of the Chinese party-state and have triggered fierce debates among Chinese intellectuals on the way they should be tackled by the CCP.

This Books&Ideas dossier explores two main questions: are migrant workers becoming a political force? What is the impact of the rise of new technologies and means of communication on the way people mobilize? It also presents the debates on political reforms triggered by the rise of protests among Chinese intellectuals.

Chloé Froissart’s essay argues that the change in strikes dynamics is underpinned by the shift from law consciousness to rights consciousness. Chinese workers now tie their material demands to demands of a more political nature, asking to participate in rule-making within the workplace and exercising their collective rights even before they have been legally guaranteed. Chloé Froissart, “Fighting For a Fair Wage”.

Éric Florence investigates migrant workers’ written practices constituting a space for struggle and negotiation around major values, state polities and legislation linked to workers’ rights. He argues that some of the online practices by migrant workers may provide platforms for more radical articulations of the politics of rights and collective mobilization: “Migrant Labour Culture in Post-Mao China”.

Liu Jun examines spontaneous mobilization via mobile phones, with a focus on two concrete popular protests in rural and urban areas, demonstrating how Chinese citizens have expanded the political uses of cellphones in their struggle for freedom of information flow, social justice and the rule of law, while seeking to build an inexpensive counter-public sphere: “Mobile Phone and Politics in China”

Finally, a key element in the understanding of how the Party-state adapts can be found in the particular role played by intellectuals in China as intermediaries between state and society, and representatives of both vulnerable categories and the Party. Émilie Frenkiel argues that influential academics’ propositions for political reform can be partially related to contrasted representations of social instability: “With or Without the Chinese People”.

Dossier's Articles

by Émilie Frenkiel & Chloé Froissart, 7 March 2013

Further reading

 Jean-Louis Rocca : « A Chinese Chronicle of Everyday Discontent », Books & Ideas, 28 January 2011
 Jianyu He, « Mapping the Chinese NGO Sector », Books & Ideas, 19 November 2012
 Nicolas Delalande & Ivan Jablonka, « Labor Migration and Social Rights. from Europe in 1900 to China in the 2000s », Books & Ideas, 13 October 2012

To quote this article :

Émilie Frenkiel & Chloé Froissart, « Protesting in early 21st century China », Books and Ideas , 7 March 2013. ISSN : 2105-3030. URL :

Nota Bene:

If you want to discuss this essay further, you can send a proposal to the editorial team (redaction at We will get back to you as soon as possible.

Our partners

© - Any replication forbidden without the explicit consent of the editors. - Mentions légales - webdesign : Abel Poucet