NGO, Network and Activism in China

Title: 1082 | NGO, Network and Activism in China
Area: China and Inner Asia
Stream: Anthropology
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Zhenru Lin, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom (organizer, presenter, chair)
Shuo Yang, King's College of London, United Kingdom (presenter)
Yang Zhao, Manchester University, United Kingdom (presenter)


This panel sheds light on how community-based activists organise their activities in contemporary China that falls in the dichotomy of the authoritarian state and civil society. To move beyond this Eurocentric imagination on the political dynamics of collective action, the three papers map out the making of the network in activist programs for migrant workers, and the War of Resistance against Japan veterans. With ethnographical data collected in cyber communities and daily participation in the movements, researchers in this panel discuss how social actors mobilise resources and organise activities in building the networking connecting governments, business sectors, intellectuals and other stakeholders. What factors contribute to the growth and development of activist programs in different sectors? As a researcher, how to build up a connection with the complex network of collective action? How to map up flows of information, the formation of social relationship, and exchange of values in social movements in China? To fully understand how activism contributes to shifting the direction of the social transformation in the crossroad, we must, therefore, understand the network building and relational dynamics among stakeholders in collective actions.

Panel Abstracts:
Regionally Made National Heroes: A Historical Redress Movement for the Kuomintang Veterans in Contemporary China
Recent research on collective memory in China regarding the War of Resistance against Japan (1937-1945) falls into a dichotomy of a state-centred approach, which overemphasises the official history made by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its propaganda function, and a keyboard-activist-approach, which narrowly focuses on the anti-CCP narrative circulated on the Internet. This ethnographical study on a historical redress movement sheds light on how activists seek and venerate the Kuomintang veterans in their residence since the late 1900s. Sharing the mission of "Caring for the Authentic National Heroes," volunteer activists revive their familial and regional history during the war in commemorative rituals for the fallen soldiers who have been treated as ghosts and in caregiving programs of the forgotten veterans who had fought in the war but has been labelled as the "anti-revolutionists" in the communist movements. In their devotion and participation, a regionally-based history in the war, as an alternative version of the national prize promoted by the CCP, has been produced in the course of daily lives. Based on intensive fieldwork in provinces of Yunnan, Hunan, and Henan, this study demonstrates how a national-hero-worshipping movement revive regional and familial memories of the war, which challenges the state's historical narrative in which the Chinese nation, as the imagined community, is the central element. By mapping out the networks of the local activists, it probes the dynamics between nationalism and

From Offline Activism to Online Communalism: China's Labour NGOs and Their Wechat Groups
The emergence and widely recognised influence of labour NGOs since the 2000s has been a remarkable manifestation of the on-going negotiation in China urban society over political, economic and cultural fields between state’s problematic authority and non-state actors’ soaring capacity. When this negotiation encounters the nationwide pervasive adoption of mobile social networking tools, some newly restructured or redefined mechanisms involving these actors are expected to be manifested by cases of labour NGOs utilising such tools. WeChat as the top messaging app in China becomes a fresh ground for observers. Based on data from four WeChat groups made up by migrant workers and staff of labour NGOs, this paper focuses on the extent to which and ways in which changes take place in the relationships between labour NGOs, migrant workers and other relevant actors in the wake of WeChat’s involvement in their interactions. Peter Dahlgren’s framework on public sphere, in which structural, representational and interactional dimensions are highlighted, is applied to figure out, categorise and conceptualise such changes. It is argued that NGO-initiated online groups tend to polarise and fix what they inherit from the offline relational patterns between the founding organisations and individual members, which is creating a tribalised continent constituted by numerous highly differentiated, ideally complementary on the other hand, labour communities.

Confronting the Legacies of Resistance War (1937-1945): Citizen Volunteers, Silenced Veterans and Family History in Contemporary China
Despite the fact that the Nationalists spearheaded the resistance against the Japanese invasion (1937-1945), their crushing defeat during the Civil War (1946-1949) by the Communists led to a revision of Chinese history that erased the memory of Nationalist war efforts. Communist rule was then a huge blow to most former Nationalist servicemen who remained in the mainland and were later ostracized as the reactionary class in the CCP’s ideology. The Nationalist veterans were silenced but also self-censored their war experiences afterwards; some veterans suffered many dreadful consequences which others also feared. However, this dramatically began to change in the 1990s, when the Communist State gradually released its control over the narrative. This spawned a grassroots volunteers’ movement, which sought to rehabilitation the status and national memory of the Resistance War and the role of the Nationalist veterans. This paper examines the relationship between the Nationalist veterans, their family relatives and the rise of the citizen volunteers seeking to reconstitute veterans as national heroes for the Chinese nation in a contemporary context. Many historians have explored war commemorations in China from a statist perspective, merely focusing on the political and diplomatic dimensions. This paper adds to the existing literature, critically investigates how the role of civilian networks, the veteran families, and individuals in constructing a cultural memory of Nationalist veterans’ war contributions during the Resistance War at a small-scale and local level and yet with a notable nationalist agenda, forming a counter-narrative

This panel is on Tuesday - Session 04 - Room 5

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