Salvaging the Name

Chris Shen
BFA IL 2022

The race against time for the gig workers of Meituan—one of China’s largest food delivery platforms—is, in some cases, a matter of life and death.1 For one, shortened designated delivery time is directly and causally linked to an increased number of traffic accidents.2 But what is also often overlooked in relevant discussions is the interlinked and interacting axes of oppression (class, gender, rural identity), now further exacerbated by the pandemic, under which the female gig workers find themselves.3 Looking back from our historical conjecture, anyone even faintly aware of China’s modern history  is faced with a tripartite question: what are we encountering; how did we get here; and what is to be done?

In this ongoing series, I will examine Chinese history since the 1978 reform with these three questions in mind. Two pressing questions are unavoidable to those on the contemporary political left: is China today socialist? With what attitude should we view the Chinese government? I will not attempt to circumvent nor to definitively answer these questions. Rather, this sequential historical treatise is better characterized by what it principally rebukes. First, I will confront the Scylla of the economical-liberal narrative: that the necessarily authoritarian Chinese Communist Party is the only thing obstructing the complete “modernization” of China, which is the sufficient condition for the liberation of Chinese people. Secondly (but no less importantly), I will challenge the Charybdis of the official history of the CCP, which holds that the economic reforms are but one chapter in the glorious epic of the national-ethnical revival of Han.

Assuredly, although often written of objectively, these stories, like all human narration, are wrought with personal or cultural sentiment. This series itself is no exception. Therefore, a clearing of accounts is necessary: I was brought up in the Chinese public school system, grew up listening to the stories of young martyrs who died fighting the war with Japan. For my generation of student leftists, there is a tendency to look back at the early periods of PRC (an era none of us are old enough to have experienced) with an unwarranted nostalgia and mourn Deng Xiaoping’s  betrayal of the revolutionary project. We, predictably and unfortunately, project the fantasies and phantoms borne by the quagmire that is our current reality onto the past. This series is no less a self-vivisection than an essay on history, and what’s more, the readers have my warmest welcome to perform such a dissection on themselves.

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Chris Shen’s whole personality is based on Alien (1979), Hellraiser(1987), and the band Coil.