Over the past thirty years of reform and opening up to the outside world, China has gradually set in place a modern legal system, which essentially guarantees a number of fundamental rights. This significant transformation of the regime underpins social relations in today’s China. Chinese workers’ demands, whether over wages, restructuring plans, relocations, or unpaid overtime, are formulated in a “language of rights” that is based on a set of rules and laws known to the workforce. At the center of these new and complex dynamics between the acknowledgement of new rights and the absence of a rule of law, two phenomena deserve particular attention: on the one hand, the emergence of a Sinicized “public-interest litigation” system, and the gradual establishment of an original form of collective bargaining on the other. The present article addresses these two forms of action by situating them in their context: the authoritarian Chinese State has no choice but to implement some reforms, yet is not ready to question the very foundations of its existence. Accordingly, the advances and limitations of Chinese law move in step with the contradictions and hesitations of the Beijing regime.
By Leïla Choukroune, Chloé Froissart