For the third consecutive year, the Made in China Yearbook, a collection of original articles examining Chinese labour issues and civil society, has been cited by an influential US government report.
The Yearbook, which is supported by The Australian National University (ANU) College of Asia and the Pacific’s Australian Centre on China in the World (CiW), was cited seven times in the 2018 US Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC).
College Student Correspondent Georgie Juszczyk spoke to Dr Ivan Franceschini, co-editor of Made in China and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and CiW, to find out more.
I have been researching labour issues and civil society in China since the mid-2000s. For a decade, from 2006 to 2015, I was based in Beijing, where I worked as a journalist and a consultant in the field of development cooperation. During that time, I had the opportunity to witness in first person the blooming of Chinese civil society in what retrospectively looks like a golden age of activism and civic engagement, before eventually witnessing its decline under the leadership of Xi Jinping.
My current research focusses on how Chinese investment impacts labour rights and industrial relations in Cambodia. I am also interested in literary translation and filmmaking. In 2011, I co-directed Dreamwork China with Tommaso Facchin, a documentary about young migrant workers in China, and I am currently working on a new documentary on mass fainting in Cambodian garment factories.
Obviously, we are pleased to see that our work is considered a reputable source in policy-making circles. Since the beginning, one of our main purposes has been to create a bridge between academics working in China studies and a wider audience of policymakers, unions, and NGOs.
Beyond political considerations, the fact that we were cited in the Report also proves that our work is actually read and taken seriously among policymakers, even outside of Australia. While I cannot say whether I agree or disagree in general with the findings and recommendation of the Report, I appreciate the fact that the Report pulls important issues that we have been covering into the spotlight. A couple of these issues include the establishment of concentration camps in Xinjiang, the ongoing repression against human rights lawyers and labour activists, growing censorship and the stifling of public debate in China.
It is quite common for academics in China studies – including myself – to complain about the way that China is presented in the media. The debate on China’s rise has been particularly fierce in Australia, spilling from academic circles into the public arena. While I myself am surprised by the viciousness of this discussion on some occasions, I only wish we had the same kind of engagement in Europe – in particular, in Italy, where the public remains largely disengaged and unaware of the issues at stake, while the government is uncritically and naively embracing China as a model.
Still, it is important to remember that being a journalist in today’s China – whether you are Chinese or foreigner – is increasingly difficult due to dwindling access to information and sources. That being said, China’s rise presents fundamental challenges to the global order and as such deserves special scrutiny. I believe that international media are playing an important role in this sense, regularly highlighting critical issues related not only to human rights abuses in China itself – such as the concentration camps in Xinjiang – but also to Chinese involvement abroad. The Chinese authorities consistently downplay these concerns either by saying that these are internal matters or that it is all the result of a biased attitude on the side of foreign journalists and scholars. The thing is, when China does begin to engage with and rewrite the rules of engaging with the international system, it is inevitable that their internal matters will assume global relevance and attract international attention. And, of course, this increased attention is bound to shed light on critical issues: what is the point of being a journalist or academic if not to criticise given truths and challenge powers that be?
I believe that the Made in China Journal has been quite successful in this regard. So far we have had the luck of being able to include writing from an amazing array of contributors – over one hundred early career researchers and senior scholars. All of them have shown an extraordinary willingness to write for us in an accessible style that is very different to that of other academic publications. They also react to our meticulous edits and punctilious comments with grace and patience!
On the readership side, since starting from scratch we have been able to grow a dedicated audience that follows all of our publications and widely shares and discusses them on social media. Some of our issues have been downloaded more than 16,000 times. We also know from our subscriber list that the journal is widely read among journalists, unionists, NGO practitioners and policymakers, as the inclusion in the latest CECC reports prove.
The Made in China Journal is and will remain open access. This is because my co-editors and I strongly believe in the importance of open access in order to ensure academic freedom and the free circulation of ideas. This is even more relevant at a time like this, when the Chinese authorities have stepped up pressure on international academic publishers to self-censor and block access to parts of their contents in China – pressure to which important publishing groups such as Springer Nature and, for a time, Cambridge University Press have shamelessly capitulated.
But as my colleague Nicholas Loubere and I have pointed out on several occasions, the issue here goes well beyond the censoring behaviour of the Chinese authorities. At a time when most academic journals remain hidden behind extremely expensive paywalls and the academic publishing industry largely works according to profit-oriented logics, the behaviour of these publishers simply highlights the limitations of the current commercial practices of academic publishing. Since publishers – worried as they are to lose access to the Chinese market – are unwilling to take a joint stand against censorship, the only way to fight this is to eliminate profit from the equation by reclaiming academic publishing through open access initiatives. Our Made in China Journal is an experiment in this sense, but we can also point to others doing similar work.
What are your plans for the future of Made in China?
My co-editors and I are always looking for new ways to improve. At the moment, we are working on three fronts. First, we will soon move the journal to a new, better organised website and restructure the editorial board to include younger scholars and expertise in areas that we have not been as traditionally strong in, such as gender.
Second, we are establishing collaborations with other media outlets. In particular, we have just launched partnerships with the Chinese academic website CNPolitics in order to disseminate some of our content in the Chinese language, and with Hong Kong Free Press.
Third, we are going to launch a new series of open access books, which will run in parallel to the Yearbooks, which we have published with ANU Press since 2016. The first volume of this new series, Afterlives of Chinese Communism, will be a collection of more than 50 essays on Chinese communism written by a broad range of scholars from different disciplines, located at institutions around the world. It will be co-edited by Christian Sorace, Nicholas Loubere and myself, and jointly published by ANU Press and Verso Books, both in digital and print form.
To access the Made in China Yearbook and quarterly publications, visit the website.
This article was written by student correspondant Georgie Juszczyk.