China's Twentieth Century: A reading list on Chinese history, culture and politics

The New York Times this week reported that labour struggles in China have multiplied over the past year since the countries economy started to slow down. While this may have been news to many in the western media, used to running stories reflecting on the "Chinese model" of development, and the staggering years of double-digit GDP growth, for the left this was less suprising. Organisations like the China Labour Bulletin have been charting and mapping the waves of labour unrest in China for years now. But, this does raise the spectre of how we see China and it's position in relation to global capitalism.

This week on the Verso blog we'll be highlighting the Verso books in this reading list that cast a critical look at China's history, politics and culture.

China's Twentieth Century
by Wang Hui
Wang Hui is one of the most influential intellectuals currently working in China. A dissident leftist, and a figurehead for the Chinese New Left, Wang's work contains some of the most powerful and stimulating writing currently coming out of China.
China's Twentieth Century is an exploration of the political and cultural shifts that have taken place over the past 100 years of Chinese history. 

The End of the Revolution: China and the Limits of Modernity
by Wang Hui
Challenging both the bureaucratic one-party regime and the Western neoliberal paradigm, China's leading critic shatters the myth of progress and reflects upon the inheritance of a revolutionary past. In this original and wide-ranging study, Wang Hui examines the roots of China's social and political problems, and traces the reforms and struggles that have led to the current state of mass depoliticization.

One China, Many Paths
Edited by Chaohua Wang
The Chinese New Left is one of the most theoretically and politically original intellectual formations to have emerged in the past decade. I n this volume, the differing voices and views of leading Chinese thinkers can for the first time be heard in English translation, debating the future of their society and its place in the world. One China, Many Paths offers a vibrant panorama of the contemporary intellectual scene in the People's Republic. Its contributors include economists and historians, philosophers and sociologists, writers and literary critics, across the generations.

Adam Smith in Beijing: Lineages of the 21st Century
by Giovanni Arrighi
In the late eighteenth century, the political economist Adam Smith predicted an eventual equalization of power between the West and the territories it had conquered. In this magisterial new work, Giovanni Arrighi shows how China's extraordinary rise invites us to reassess radically the conventional reading of The Wealth of Nations

Tibet on Fire: Self-Immolations Against Chinese Rule
by Tsering Woeser
Since the 2008 uprising, nearly 150 Tibetan monks have set fire to themselves in protest at the Chinese occupation of their country. Most have died from their injuries. Author Tsering Woeser is a prominent voice of the Tibetan movement, and one of the few Tibetan authors to write in Chinese. Her stirring acts of resistance have led to her house arrest, where she remains under close surveillance to this day. Tibet On Fire is her account of the oppression Tibetans face and the ideals driving those who resist, both the self-immolators and other Tibetans like herself.

The Struggle for Tibet
China's decades-long repression of Tibetan independence continues on as its global economic power continues to grow. In response to the former and despite the latter, the independence movement persists, represented here through the voices of Wang Lixiong and Tsering Shakya. Born into the repressive one-party regime, both writers now seek for Tibetan cultural and political autonomy, and although each writer theorizes this goal differently, both are in agreement about what must now be done. The result is this milestone exchange.

Scattered Sand: The Story of China's Rural Migrants
by Hsiao-Hung Pai

Each year, 200 million workers from China’s vast rural interior travel between cities and provinces in search of employment: the largest human migration in history. This indispensable army of labour accounts for half of China’s GDP, but is an unorganized workforce—‘scattered sand’, in Chinese parlance—and the most marginalized and impoverished group of workers in the country.
For two years, the award-winning journalist Hsiao-Hung Pai travelled across China, visiting labourers on Olympic construction sites, in the coal mines and brick kilns of the Yellow River region, and at the factories of the Pearl River Delta. She witnessed the outcome of the 2009 riots in the Muslim province of Xinjiang; saw towns in rubble more than a year after the colossal earthquake in Sichuan; and was reunited with long-lost relatives, estranged since her mother’s family fled for Taiwan during the Civil War. Scattered Sand is the result of her travels: a finely wrought portrait of those left behind by China’s dramatic social and economic advances.

Cinema and Desire: Feminist Marxism and Cultural Politics in the Work of Dai Jinhua
by Dai Jinhua

Dai Jinhua is one of contemporary China’s most influential theoreticians and cultural critics. A feminist Marxist, her literary, film and TV commentary has, over the last decade, addressed an expanding audience in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Cinema and Desire presents Dai Jinhau’s best work to date. In it she examines the Orientalism that made Zhang Yimou the darling of international film festivals, establishes Huang Shuqin’s Human, Woman, Demon as the People’s Republic’s first genuinely feminist film, comments on TV representations of the Chinese diaspora in New York, speculates on the value of Mao Zedong as an icon of post-revolutionary consumerism, and analyses the rise of shopping plazas in 1990s’ urban China as a strange montage in which the political memories of Tiananmen Square and the logic of the global capitalist marketplace are intertwined.

F: Hu Feng's Prison Years
by Mei Zhi

Hu Feng, the 'counterrevolutionary' leader of a banned literary school, spent twenty-five years in the Chinese Communist Party's prison system. But back in the Party's early days, he was one of its best known literary theoreticians and critics—at least until factional infighting, and his short fuse, made him persona non grata among the establishment.

His wife, Mei Zhi, shared his incarceration for many years. F is her account of that time, beginning ten years after her and Hu Feng’s initial arrest. She herself was eventually released, after which she navigated the party’s Byzantine prison bureaucracy searching for his whereabouts. Having finally found him, she voluntarily returned to gaol to care for him in his rage and suffering, watching his descent into madness as the excesses of the Cultural Revolution took their toll. Both an intimate portrait of Mei Zhi’s life with Hu Feng and a stark account of the prison system and life under Mao, is at once beautiful and harrowing.

The Communist Hypothesis
by Alain Badiou

Alain Badiou’s ‘communist hypothesis’, first stated in 2008, cut through the cant and compromises of the past twenty years to reconceptualize the Left. The hypothesis is a fresh demand for universal emancipation and a galvanizing call to arms. 
Also includes Badiou's reflections on Maoism and the Cultural Revolution

by Alain Badiou

Polemics is a series of brilliant metapolitical reflections, demolishing established opinion and dominant propaganda, and reorienting our understanding of events from the Kosovo and Iraq wars to the Paris Commune and the Cultural Revolution. At once witty and profound, Badiou presents a series of radical philosophical engagements with politics, and questions what constitutes political truth.