27 June 2016

Professor Christian Goebel

Abstract: Mass Line, Assembly Line, Online: Social Unrest in a Masterplanned China

China’s future is being scripted by the elites. Divided into work packages of one, ten, fifteen and twenty years, visionaries, dreamers, planners and (policy) entrepreneurs are guiding the country towards modernity. Even Xi Jinping’s revival of the Mass Line follows a plan that does not foresee the participation of the masses. Yet the masses do participate, uninvited: every day, dozens, if not hundreds of protests take place in China, many of them an expression of resistance against precarious working conditions which have long formed the backbone of China’s growth and which the government seeks to improve. Social unrest is an odometer that allows politicians and scholars alike to measure the distance between ever bolder manifests of change and a reality that refuses to budge to dreams and visions. The keynote examines the development of protests since Xi Jinping took office in late 2012. Based on social media reports of more than 60.000 protests that took place in China between mid-2013 and mid-2016, it sheds light on protesters’ demands, the instruments, frames and language they employ, and the consequences of their actions. By juxtaposing the dynamics of social unrest in recent years against the central government’s visions of modernity, the keynote highlights and makes amenable to analysis the manifold tensions that simultaneously drive and hinder change in today's China.

Christian GoebelChristian Göbel is University Professor of Modern China Studies at the Dept. of East Asian Studies, University of Vienna. A political scientist and sinologist by training, his research is concerned with the adaptability of the Chinese Party-State to social, economic and political challenges. He is especially interested in effects of digital technology on local governance in China. In a project funded by the ERC, he examines the emergence and impact of virtual communication platforms that allow Chinese people to openly voice their grievances. Other research interests are corruption and anti-corruption in Taiwan, and the comparative study of authoritarian regimes.