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The Evolution of Workers’ Rights in China – Mary Gallagher

The Evolution of Workers’ Rights in China – Mary Gallagher

UPenn Center for the Study of Contemporary China

Economic reform since the late 1970s, as well as the dynamics of globalization unleashed in full by China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001, have significantly complicated the relationship between the Chinese Party-state and Chinese workers. Some of this complexity was made apparent in the 1990s, after millions of workers were laid off from state owned enterprises, and then it was highlighted again, in a different form, in connection with worker suicides at Foxconn plants and strikes at Honda factories in Guangdong Province in 2010. Most recently, the gap between official rhetoric and state practice, as it relates to Chinese workers, has been most dramatically indicated by the crackdown on Marxist student groups and organizers at elite Chinese universities.

In this episode, Neysun Mahboubi discusses the evolution of workers’ rights in China, since the founding of the Chinese Communist Party after the May 4th student movement, and through the present day, with University of Michigan political scientist Mary Gallagher, one of the most influential scholars of Chinese labor and labor mobilization. The episode was recorded on February 14, 2019.

Mary Gallagher is Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she is also the Director of the Center for Chinese Studies. Her core research explores the relationships between capitalism, law, and democracy, and her empirical research on China is used to explore those larger theoretical questions. Her books include Authoritarian Legality in China: Law, Workers, and the State (Cambridge University Press 2017), Chinese Justice: Civil Dispute Resolution in Contemporary China (co-editor, with Margaret Woo; Cambridge University Press 2011), and Contagious Capitalism: Globalization and the Politics of Labor in China (Princeton University Press 2005). In China, Professor Gallagher was a foreign student at Nanjing University in 1989; she also taught at the Foreign Affairs College in Beijing from 1996-97; and she was a Fulbright Research Scholar at East China University of Politics and Law in Shanghai from 2003-04. You can follow her on Twitter @MaryGao.

Music credit: "Salt" by Poppy Ackroyd, follow her at

Special thanks to Nick Marziani and Kaiser Kuo

03/14/19 • 79 min

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