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November 20, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright November 20, 2008. Used by permission.


With protest in the news, here are some places to turn for accessible academic readings that help place unrest into perspective. One thing worth noting in the list is that while some touch upon, none specifically focuses on Tiananmen per se. The events of 1989 are important; we’ve put up material related to them before; we doubtless will again, especially as the twentieth anniversary of the June 4th Massacre approaches. Still, sometimes the shadow of the 1989 protests can make it harder to discern the meaning of current events, especially when the outbursts don’t take the form of student-led demonstrations.

1. David Strand’s Rickshaw Beijing. This is a work that evokes many aspects of Republican era Beijing, not just protests, but includes a sensitive treatments of the sources of discontent and outbursts of the most exploited transportation workers of the day—the men who pulled the rickshaws of the book’s title.

2. We’ve blogged about and interviewed Elizabeth J. Perry before, but no list of major works on protest would be complete without at least one book by her. So we’ve chosen a collection of her essays, Challenging the Mandate of Heaven, which analyzes unrest among different social groups in different historical periods, from the Qing up to the present.

3. Sociologist Ching Kwan Lee has done several important ethnographic studies of workers, and in her most recent book, Against the Law, she helps us understand the grievances and patterns of action.