It’s a dark era, but we should not despair

Qian Benli

In today’s China, for those who are not members of the ruling class, the trend is increasingly turning in a shitty direction. Never mind that all of the Party-controlled media apparatus is working its fingers to the bone to fabricate an opposite story.

Our rulers want us to worship them, because they claim that a convenient and secure life has been provided to the people—probably through building things such as expensive high-speed railways or navy fleet centers around a secondhand cold-war aircraft carrier. But the cruel facts are revealed faster than the cover-up efforts. Crops for ordinary people are watered by red-colored industrial waste from a chemical factory while party leaders get special supplies—everything from tea leaves to blood transfusions. Students from non-privileged families are abused, exploited and sexual assaulted in schools and colleges by their teachers, professors or principals on an unbelievable scale. Ordinary people’s speeches, moves and thoughts are carefully watched and analyzed by the Gestapo with the help of hundreds of millions of surveillance cameras and social media monopolies. The Big Brother just awarded himself an indefinite crown by changing the constitution, without giving a fuck about the opinions of citizens. Muslims are treated like potential-terrorists in daily life and sent to concentration camps for “re-education”; Christian churches are demolished, and even online sales of the Bible are banned.

The above are only a small percentage of the shitty things I have randomly read about recently—some people are trying seriously to make regular summaries on social media and the lists are always long. The status quo and foreseeable future make people feel angry, frustrated and disheartened. Is the ruling machinery too indestructible to be shaken by the humble oppressed? Is this country going to sink into complete darkness inevitably? Shall we just give up resisting and join in the chorus? For me the answer to these questions is no, because the sparks of rebellion are still ignited constantly.

On 26th March, around 2,000 cleaning workers in Shanghai went on strike. The direct cause was that their employers, three companies to which the local government outsourced the jobs of street cleaning, changed the working hours so that they could save monthly overtime pay of at least 560 yuan (about 89 US dollars) per worker. Basically, for the same workload, workers would be paid less. Before this happened, their working conditions were already horrible. For example, if supervisors catch workers taking breaks, talking to each other or checking phones during working hours, the latter will be fined 200 yuan (the total monthly wage before the cut was about 4,000 yuan).

This is fucking slavery in the 21st century. Only the most vulnerable layer of working class takes this kind of job—uneducated, from rural areas, aged, unskilled—so the employers and government officials think they can bully them without worrying about a counterattack.

They are wrong. Despite the lack of any assistance from outside, such as unions or labor NGOs, the seemingly powerless cleaning workers organized a successful strike. The effort was great—the streets in China’s most flourishing and costly city were soon decorated with piles of rubbish and filth.


Repression came as well. Workers who demanded the relevant government departments to safeguard their rights were beaten up and arrested by cops, and their appeals on social media were censored. However, the authority’s thugs and internet police didn’t pick up rubbish from the streets, so the companies had to offer a much higher wage to recruit scabs to do the work.

Six days later, the companies promised that the wage cut would be 260 instead of 560 yuan, which made most workers go back to work. Obviously, this is not a victory for those strikers, but I think this incident still shows some inspiring signs.

Firstly, it demonstrates that even the most disadvantaged workers can release a power of deterrence through carrying out simple collective actions. If they are more experienced, they will definitely be able to implement better strategies and force the other side to make more concessions.

Secondly, due to the ruling class’ greediness, stupidity, corruption and arrogance, the state machinery is crumbling. If they can save a tip of the fortune that was spent on surveillance networks or the welcome dinner for North Korea’s dictator, and use this money to pay decent wages to those cleaning workers, then this strike would not happen. Similarly, money for public health, education and welfare, instead of for the military, secret police and internet censorship, would be much more effective for preventing social unrest.

Thirdly, any resistance, regardless of whether or not it is successful, will encourage others to take actions. Some college students played very active roles in publicizing this strike. They did the same when cleaners on a college campus in Guangzhou went on strike previously. And now students from different universities across the country are fighting a battle against sexual harassment, academic exploitation and university management’s authoritarianism. Although I don’t have evidence of links between the striking workers and the protesting students, various news of resistance has appeared on social media there is certainly a psychological push for the latter.

Lastly, there are incidents creating the disillusion of the so-called “Chinese dream”. Movies such as Wolf Warrior 2 can sow the seeds of patriotism in the mind of a working class youth in two hours and make them believe that the state values all its citizens. But this nationalistic passion will cool soon after they’ve found that people like their parents or grandparents are treated like shit by the rich and powerful in reality. A sense of betrayal will create more determined dissidents.

So, I still believe that history is on our side and will not surrender to the darkness.