The Interwining of Knowledge, Affect, Life, and Mentality: Chinese Youths’ Turn to Marxist-Leninist-Maoist in Contemporary China

The Interwining of Knowledge, Affect, Life, and Mentality: Chinese Youths’ Turn to Marxist-Leninist-Maoist in Contemporary China

Kuo Jia


Shenzhen Jasic Technology Co., Ltd, founded in 2005, is a listed company specializing in welding and cutting equipment. In the summer of 2018, Jasic labor movement (佳士運動) broke out. In March to May 2018, Jasic worker Yu Juncong and colleagues complained to local labor authorities about the company’s penalty regulations, excessive overtime, and malicious treatment by supervisors resulting to Yu’s illegal dismissal. In early July, Jasic worker Mi Jiuping collected 89 signatures from workers for establishing a union in accordance with the advice of the district union. However, company executives and the district union claimed that establishing a union was illegal. A few days later, several workers who were dismissed demanded to return to work at Jasic but were violently met by the police. More than twenty workers who went to the police station to support them were also beaten and detained.

Since mid-July, Jasic Workers Solidarity Group (佳士工人聲援團) has begun to launch increasingly powerful support activities, demanding punishment for police officers who beat people, reinstatement, union establishment, improvement of wages, and benefits. Left-wing (especially Maoists) media in mainland China mobilized leftists to sign joint statements and support them on the spot. Workers, college students, and “old comrades” (retired officials, retired workers, retired soldiers, laid-off workers) began to join the on-site support. In mid-August, the police and national security began to arrest members of the support group, beating and forcibly taking away students and workers. This was followed by harassment and arrest of non-student left-wing and worker supporters. The crackdown on students continued until 2019. Most of them were sent home and experienced questioning, threats, surveillance by their families and teachers, and even expulsion. Several Marxist societies in universities have been harassed, monitored, and deregistered. In the spring of 2019, several members of the Marxist Association of Peking University (北京大學馬克思主義學會) were arrested.

 The power and momentum of China’s Jasic labor movement largely came from the alliance between workers and students. The primary force within the Jasic Workers Solidarity Group comprises Marxist-Leninist-Maoist  (MLM) [1] university students and graduates, commonly referred to as Jasic student activists. Among them are students who have traveled from various places, organizers working in the Pearl River Delta region, and some who work within the Jasic factory as workers. It can be stated that the Jasic labor movement did not solely erupt from an economic struggle within the factory but evolved into a public political struggle. Rather, it involved MLM youth having political organizational identities, primarily university graduates, and workers who embraced their political beliefs. They entered the Jasic factory as assembly line workers, aimed to propagate and mobilize the workers, thus initiating the struggle.

Jasic student activists unleashed a highly impactful and persistent energy throughout the movement. They were highly genuine, resolute and steadfast of their MLM idea and political agenda and were dedicated to advocating for socialist revolution in contemporary China. They also adopted a nostalgic language style and aesthetics of China’s socialist revolution which happened in the last century. Not only did they use the theory of dogmatic Marxism-Leninism-Maoism(MLM), emphasizing the authenticity of class, and taking class justice as the basis of historical progress like that of the old Chinese socialists, but they also compared the current situation to the that of the “New Democratic Revolution” period [2], and analogize themselves as communist party members of that period. Meanwhile, they also embodied and followed the moral code that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) demanded for its revolutionaries. The Jasic MLM university student activists always emphasized virtues such as “keep on the struggle”, “endure the hardship,” “adopt a life of simplicity,” “uphold the steadfastness,” and “don’t be afraid of sacrifice” like the old revolutionary heroes did. The clear involvement and presence of MLM university students in the Jasic labor movement, has therefore made it one of the most unique labor struggles in modern day China. As the actions and appearances of the MLM university students [3] have always caught more media attention in East Asian and Western media, behind this attention is a keen awareness of the rise of left-wing thought among young Chinese youth today. So, who are these students? Where do they come from? What kind of leftism do they uphold? When they claim that they are MLM, are they serious about it?

This essay aims at situating the Jasic labor movement and the students of Jasic Workers Solidarity Group within a broader historical and political context of China’s left-wing community [4]. It will first examine the history of the left-wing community, to provide a brief genealogy for the Jasic MLM university students. Then, the essay will delineate the common feelings the students’ have on China’s society as they were “seeing” China when they grew up, these feelings were not only specific to the MLM university students of the Jasic labor movement, but were also common among the young generation of the 2010’s. Afterwards, the essay will explain under what circumstances and environment, these feelings were captured by certain political frameworks, resulting in a left turned mind, making these students into MLM. Finally, I will describe the struggle and situation of these MLM in the broader political realm and analyze how these affect their mentality and even their aesthetics and language style. Although this essay focuses mainly on the Jasic MLM youths, exploring the profile of the Jasic student activists will help us to understand the overall political situation that the left-wing community is facing in China – including those who are in a different cultural scene, academia background and the social movement sphere, and those who are not MLM.

I. “Leftists that Burst out of Stones”? A Genealogy of the Young Leftists in 2010s

1. A “New” Phenomenon?

The Jasic labor movement is a unique presence in China’s labor struggles – so unique that you can find no similar cases from the 1990s until today. First, the demand of the protest was ultra-radical in China’s context. Not only did it criticize the company, but also criticized the Chinese government and its union law. The Jasic labor movement touched on this taboo which a lot of struggles led by NGOs didn’t touch due to its sensitive nature. Second, the Jasic labor movement solidarity group clearly presented themselves as leftists, using a MLM language and aesthetics throughout their struggle. The way the solidarity group brought out Mao’s portrait in the protests made the movement a spectacle, capturing a lot of media attention both inside and outside China.

Third, students’ involvement in the struggle was prominent, they were not only supporting the workers and letting the workers become the only “subject of the struggle,” but the students also led the movement. This form of union between workers and students, which has a theoretical root in MLM, emerged in East Asia (including South Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong) in the 1970s to 1990s but never clearly appeared in contemporary mainland China. Besides, some of the students involved had even become the face of the movement. The students in the solidarity group mainly came from Marxist societies in China’s top universities, including Peking University, Beijing Language and Culture University, Renmin University of China, and Nanjing University. And because Peking University is the most prestigious university in China, the participation and arrest of Peking University students in the movement has received much attention in domestic and foreign media.

Fourth, the way that left-wing student organizations networked and formed alliances to support a movement is also very rare in China. These alliances of student organizations played a major role in the Jasic struggle, as most student participants were members of some left-wing student organization. But why can these organizations be so powerful in quickly mobilizing their members? It must be noted that these organizations have deep connections with its members, and often play a crucial role in these students’ politicization process by providing knowledge resources, organizing actions and giving community support. Some of these organizations also share similar training methods, such as providing reading materials on the history of China’s New Democratic Revolution and MLM ideology, conducting research on factories and worker communities, and organizing students to work in factories. Moreover, these organizations also have similar organizing methods, like emphasizing the importance of self-reflection/self-criticism, and advocating for abandoning elite status after graduation to work in factories or engage in organizing workers, which explains why the Jasic left-inclined youth shares a lot of common characteristics in thoughts and style [5].

It is true that the Jasic student activists are the “new” phenomenon – you can see no other leftists like them in other movements – chanting slogans about class struggle, holding up Mao’s portrait, and fighting against the police. And as it is so new, they are often misrepresented by the public and mass media. One common misunderstanding is to say that they are pro-government as they are pro-Mao. However, one should know that China’s ruling party’s ideology nowadays has already departed away from Maoism, and the reason why the government claims adherence to Mao Zedong Thought is just to gain ruling legitimacy. Another common misunderstanding is to portray the Jasic young leftists as “leftists who burst out of stones”—which is especially common in western media. However, such portrayal is problematic in three ways. First, it gives the impression that these leftists do not have a genealogy, a history, or an inheritance. This saying therefore singles out the Jasic student activists as an independent group, or even worse, a weird cult or an occasional incident, eventually overseeing the fact that the Jasic student activists share a common political, economic, cultural, and affective situation like other youths do. Second, such “leftists who burst out of stones” saying which overlooks the genealogy of these Jasic student activists, will mislead us to the false conclusion that they are only using MLM as a strategy, and not to take their discourse and analysis seriously. Third, this “leftists who burst out of stones” saying may even become a self-fulfilling prophecy, justifying the eventual vanishing of the Jasic student activists, and overlook the problem of the government’s crackdown and suppression.

Whereas the questions posed by East Asian and Western mainstream media to the Jasic student activists, “why has left-wing ideology emerged among China’s elite students in the past five or six years?” is a genuine question worth exploring. The left-wing movement has had its highs, such as global anti-WTO movements in 2000’s and occupy movements in 2011, which brought back the excitement of left-wing resurgence.  However, their impact in mainland China remained limited. China did not experience a severe economic downturn like the United States or Europe did after the financial crisis. Instead, China rose from the world financial crisis by strengthening state-owned enterprises and investing in infrastructure. Therefore, young leftists in China’s left-wing community did not directly benefit from the momentum of global left-wing resurgence, nor was intellectually affected by the left-wing knowledge and theories produced.

2. From the 1980’s to the 2000’s: New Left, Retired Officials, Retired Workers, and Public Intellectuals

Let’s situate the Jasic students in a broader historical and political context of China’s left-wing community. The genealogy of the Jasic leftists can date back to the 1980s. After the end of Cultural Revolution, in 1980s, there was a huge movement among China’s society and intellectual community, often termed as cultural new enlightenment (新啟蒙). During this period, former “radical fraction” of Red Guards (文革造反派) in the cultural revolution, who were leftists that did not necessarily have an academic background, were keen to explore non-orthodox Marxism and reinterpret Maoism and socialism, to seek new possible political, social, and economic solutions for the future. However, the cultural new enlightenment came to an abrupt end in 1989, as there was a sudden tightening of freedom of speech after the Tiananmen Square Incident.

After 1989, China’s left-wing community underwent a constant reorganization. It was no longer dominated by the former “radical fraction” of the cultural revolution, instead, intellectuals in the academia led the left-wing community, and they were termed as the “New Left.” In the 1990s, a prominent debate broke out between the “New Left” [6] and the “Liberal” [7]. Their debate revolved around the issues faced by Chinese peasants amid economic reforms, including the loss of land, labor rights and employment rights of these peasant workers as they migrated to the city. As a severe wealth gap between cities and suburbs emerged, the “New Left” blamed it on the development of capitalism, and the “Liberal” – which shares a lot of similarities with the liberals in the west – blamed it on the intervention of the state on the free market. Eventually, the “New Left” became marginalized and could never occupy a leading position, whereas the “Liberals” became the most popular opposition stand.

After 2000, especially after the “rise of China” narrative became popular in 2008, the New Left shifted towards statism. They argue that China is a socialist country and believe that this “socialism with Chinese characteristics” can serve as an alternative modernity competing with Western modernity. Therefore, they emphasize the key and proactive role of the Chinese state in the global development of socialism. Meanwhile in the 2000s, apart from the New Left who were mainly academics, other retired officials, retired workers, and public intellectuals who were not based in academia, became an important force within the left-wing community. As they had very different life experiences in comparison to the academic New Left, they used the language of the Maoist era or orthodox Marxism. Differentiating from the New Left, they tend to disagree more with the market economy and privatization. And they thought that the Reform and Opening-Up policy had created more social problems than that of the Mao Zedong era.

Whereas the New Left were able to occupy a position on mass media and academic publications. The retired officials, laid-off workers and public intellectuals were cultivating their influence online. Due to different strategic and theoretical inclination, these online-leftists were gradually divided into “Maoist” [8], “Trotskyist”[9], “Stalinist”[10], “Royalist”[11], “Marxist-Leninist-Maoists,” “reformists,” “revolutionaries,” “nationalists,” “statists,” and so on. Until 2012, the dominant discourse in the leftist community was held by nationalist and reformist-minded Royalists. Apart from Royalists hoping for change within the CCP, there were still opponents of reform who explicitly pointed out CCP’s regime as a “fascist dictatorship of the bureaucratic monopoly capitalist class” practicing “revisionist” policies. These opponents advocated for a new wave of socialist revolution and identified themselves as “revolutionaries.” However, the influence of bothremained mainly online.

3. The 2010’s: Why has the Left-Wing become Prevalent among Chinese Students Today?

The rise of young leftists in China should be explained in a different manner, as it has a different context from global left-wing trends. It was around 2008 that many Chinese college students were actively spreading and producing left-wing knowledge or carrying out left-wing ideas into actual practice. Besides members of Marxist societies in college campus, they were mostly students in cultural studies, art criticism, and sociology, as well as students involved in gender and labor movements who read and mobilized left-wing knowledge.

There are four reasons fueling this emergence of left-wing youth after 2008.

(1) The situation of migrant workers in China has entered a new historical stage of “semi-proletarianization” [12], pushing society to respond to the issue. As migrant workers were facing political, economic, cultural, and psychological oppression and challenges, acute social problems broke out and one could not avoid acknowledging. The intellectual community therefore started to respond to it. Since about 2005, sociologists such as Pun Ngai and Shen Yuan began to propose “bringing the class/class analysis back to the center of sociology and migrant worker research. As the theory of “the semi-proletarianization of migrant workers” was very convincing and shows its explanatory power [13], left-wing discourses found a position in the field of migrant worker research [14], hence informed the growth of left-inclined youth.

(2) After 2008, as China was transitioning from the “world factory” to “industrial upgrading:” there was a sharp increase in labor disputes and strikes. These labor struggles empowered the second-generation migrant workers. And as online media and self-media platforms were becoming more and more popular, these second-generation migrant workers who were outspoken and visible, were able to find a space to exert direct influence in the political, economic, and cultural sphere. This boosted people’s interest in workers’ situation and left-wing thoughts, which favored Chinese youth’s left-turn.

(3) The structural problems of China’s economic development and the expansion of universities have limited economic, cultural, and social upward mobility for young adults [15]. As having a bachelor’s degree can no longer guarantee a middle-class life, students and young graduates are more likely to understand the situation of blue-collar and migrant workers, and hence to comprehend the contradictions within China’s political economy. Consequently, leftist theories with a political-economic critique become more appealing to them.

(4) In the 2010s, after China had gained more global power, an overall upward atmosphere nurtured a stronger nationalist sentiment. “China model” (中國模式) and “Chinese path to modernization” were proposed. This term refers to a competition between “socialism with Chinese characteristics” and Western modernity, and suggests that the “China model” is a better path to achieve modernity. However, the “China model” is based on the exploitation of millions of migrant workers. For young individuals concerned about labor issues, this model is highly detrimental and undesirable, as it legitimizes oppression, exploitation, authoritarianism, and state capitalism.

From 2005 to 2015, labor disputes and worker protests in China reached an unprecedented peak [16]. Around 2008, multiple big and influential labor movements and mass strikes broke out, which included Foxconn suicides strike [17] and Honda worker strike [18]. Some young people, especially those who had a higher education background, were very much inspired by these struggles of laid-off workers and migrant workers. After their graduation, they became NGO workers and activists in the field of labor movements. Although these young people were also a distant reader or a participant of the online left-wing community, they did not necessarily employ an obvious leftwing language or aesthetics in their community organizing and public presentation.

MLM youth is a small part of this wave of young leftists. Jasic student activists are like a mix and match of all these active leftists mentioned above. They are highly educated young intellectuals who point out that the New Left’s statist turn is turning a blind eye on the state’s violent suppression of various social movements, as well as the rising position of China within the global capitalist economy. They have the language and aesthetics of Royalists who were dominated online, but they are revolutionary MLM, dedicated to advocating for socialist revolution in contemporary China. They are as critical as the online MLM, but they are coming together in strong solidarity and doing actual organizing work offline. They are young and grounded, but they do not resort to safe and legal strategies to push forward advocacies like NGO workers normally do. They grasp the theoretical framework of Marxism, value revolutionary knowledge, but they do not primarily focus on intellectuals. Instead, their focus lies on factory work, organizing workers, and vanguard party organization.

Clearly, Jasic student activists do have a genealogy, one can see that they share common characteristics with other leftist groups. But this alone cannot explain why these Jasic student activists, who are young, highly intellectual, militant, would choose to unite under the banner of MLM and do organizing work like no other leftists. Knowing that they do have historical resources to formulate their own leftist mix is only the first step. Knowing how they do the formulation is the next.

II. Articulating China

To start with, one should understand that becoming a leftist in mainland China requires crossing many obstacles. Contrary to the popular imagination of the west that mainland Chinese youths are “born leftist,” Chinese youths are actually “born nationalist,” “born statist,” and “born supporter of capitalist economy.” After the reform and opening-up policy, China’s official ideology became “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” which can be summarized as state capitalism with authoritarian politics. The state’s firm grip in all realms remains, but there is a significant departure from socialism in political, economic, and cultural aspects. “Socialism” serves merely as a rhetoric to maintain the legitimacy of the ruling party. And as the mainstream ideology among the public closely aligns with this framework. Under the state’s control in the cultural and educational spheres, Chinese youth certainly are not “born socialist” [19].

On the other hand, the left-wing community has consistently remained marginal since the implementation of the Reform and Opening-Up Policy. As mentioned in the last part, from the 80’s to the 2000’s, except for a brief appearance of the New Left in the intellectual community, liberalism dominated the intellectual sphere and public political discursive space. When liberalism presented itself as the most fashionable and reasonable opposition to “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” the overall left — no matter statist or not —  were painted with the same brush as conservative and irrational. Although in the 2010’s to the present, the proportion of revolutionaries and advocates of critical socialism within the left has significantly increased, while reformist, statist and nationalist forces in the left-wing community have weakened considerably, due to the strong suppression of critical thinking by the authorities during this period, the increasingly radical left remains on the fringes of public political discourse.

As for the Jasic student activists, joining the Marxist society at their universities played a crucial role in their journey of becoming leftists. While some had already possessed a comprehensive left-wing perspective on societal conditions before joining the society, many other members only had a preliminary critical awareness of societal conditions — either rudimentary or in the vein of mainstream liberalism — before joining the society. Some members were even completely apolitical before joining. So how did the Marxist societies transform these students into leftists, or even MLM? This has much to do with their organization work, which emphasized on actively seeing the socio-political-economic reality of China and forming a “China sense.” In this process of seeing, members were encouraged to link up the realities they have seen, to their own personal experiences. And the Marxist societies also provided these members with analytical methods to interpret reality. In the following session, I will delineate how the student members learned to “see” China and analyze China, which plays an important role in their path of becoming a leftist.

1. Seeing China and the China Sense

If we go back to the 1990’s and the early 2000’s, a typical politically engaged youth would have perceived China in the following way. This youth would see how state-owned enterprises went through massive restructuring, reorganization, and property transfers, leading to widespread layoffs. At the same time, issues such as migrant workers, wealth disparity, and corruption became heated topics on television, newspapers, and mainstream social and cultural commentary. However depressing some cases might be, the youth would still feel a sense of hope, and thought most societal problems were transitional problems only. Because China was in rapid economic growth at that time and was achieving notable success in industrialization and rural poverty alleviation, therefore, the China sense of a youth of this era, would include positive expectations for the future [20].

Ten years later, when a semi-politically engaged youth joined the Marxist society, the dark side of China revealed itself in front of their eyes. Under high-speed social change and pressure, property prices soared, living cost went high, unequal distribution of education and healthcare resources triggered widespread social discontent, migrant workers’ right were damaged, corruption was getting worse. And, in the years around 2008, there was a dramatic increase in both the number and intensity of labor protests. Although in the following years, China’s global economic status was higher than ever, risks followed as the state aggressively pushed forward the agenda of the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” and “the Belt and Road.” Propagandas such as the “Chinese Dream” and the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” could no longer cover the structural problems faced by workers and peasants, the highly prosperous capitalist economy was clearly built upon a system of extensive exploitation of workers and peasants.

The Marxist society organized their members to research on China’s labor conditions, which the members therefore gained first-hand observation of various contemporary Chinese social problems. As the following quoted passage suggests, after seeing the conditions of migrant workers, they establish a connection with their own experiences and begin exploring the roots and solutions.

I visited workers suffering from pneumoconiosis. They were constructing in Shenzhen without adequate protective measures provided by the employers, leading to them contracting this incurable disease. Pneumoconiosis brings only suffering—its victims gradually succumb to increasingly burdensome breathing difficulties and painful suffocation until death becomes inevitable…In the winter of 2017, following a massive fire in Beijing’s Daxing district, the city commenced a large-scale cleanup of migrant workers. I visited the site of the fire and the residences of migrant workers being evicted . . . A woman, eyes filled with tears, expressed her plight to me. She couldn’t even gather enough money to return to her hometown and was cut off from water, electricity, and heating, compelled to move out within a limited timeframe . . . Holding my hand, she tearfully questioned why, after serving the city for so long, she was abandoned like this. She wondered what wrong she had done and what had become of the world. How could I comfortably dwell in my privileged position, consumed by my trivial desires, entangled in my own emotions, and selfishly live out my life amidst the harsh reality? [21]

As the Marxist society made its member research on China’s social problems, and the members were shocked by the extreme poverty they saw when in contact with the working class and migrant workers, they were therefore more motivated to research more on China’s political-economic situation, as they wrote,

From a macro perspective, between 2010 and 2018, the annual Rural Migrant Workers Monitoring Report indicated that the labor contract rate hovered around 30%, with many workers unable to access benefits by contributing to social security. In recent years, as the socio-economic conditions gradually declined, profits in the real economy reduced. Even in Shenzhen, where the highest basic wage in the country is, wages haven’t increased for three to four years. Conversely, essential living expenses such as housing prices and commodities have been steadily rising. This overall socio-economic situation not only fails to convey a sense of societal progress to ordinary laborers but rather imposes immense life pressures on them. At a micro level, conflicts between labor and capital, local governments and the populace regarding education, healthcare, and other livelihood issues, disputes arising from land expropriation due to local governments using land transfers to increase fiscal revenue, and the use of bureaucratic privilege by local governments to suppress the people—all these contradictions have been persistently evident in various regions. [22]

When they researched more deeply, they were convinced that the difficult situation workers are facing have multiple facets. For example, migrant workers are not only facing problems of forced eviction and poverty, but also a lack of education, healthcare and other vital resources for survival. And such lack was disproportionate with China’s GPD growth. As they state,

Most Chinese people cannot afford illness. Once they fall sick, they have to bear high medical expenses . . . Behind this, monopolies in the medical industry make exorbitant profits through high drug prices . . . Most Chinese people also cannot afford housing. While property prices soar and GDP increases, real estate developers make money, but how can those who need six pockets to afford a home survive? Not to mention the workers and farmers at the lowest rungs of society, silently enduring sweat, blood, and tears, constructing towering buildings . . . [23]

In the eyes of the Jasic student activists, multiple facets of oppression the working class faced were interrelated and intertwined. Instead of separating the issues as separated struggles against “high housing price,” “poverty,” “lack of medical resources,” the Jasic youth were eager to find out a holistic explanation and hence a holistic solution for all these oppression. This is when the Marxist society introduced Marxism to them and convinced them this is the kind of knowledge designed to end the oppression for the workers. As they expressed,

The piercing reality urged me to stand in solidarity with the workers, seeking roots and seeking a way out. I began reading books on Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and regularly spent time chatting with my fellow workers whenever I had spare moments. [24]

Marxism was appealing to them, as it promised a holistic solution for the intertwined problems the Chinese working class faced. When the Marxist society members were convinced that China’s capitalist economic nature is the root cost to class contradictions. The multiple oppressions the working class faced were by nature class conflicts. They felt that the bureaucracy and the voices of the people — especially migrant workers — had come to an irreconcilable point. Joining the Jasic labor movement was therefore an important action for them to do respond to the situation, as one of the key members of Jasic Solidarity Group Gu Jia Yue, who was also a member of a Marxist society said, she had felt a kind of urgency in China’s society, they made her suspend her career plan of becoming a doctor, but to spend time on exploring Marxism, she expressed,

A mother’s triplets all fall ill, and despite exhausting their savings, they can only afford to save one; a construction worker’s thigh is pierced by a steel bar, fearing to become a burden on his family, he’d rather die than agree to amputation… The sense of powerlessness brought about by studying medicine did not make Jiayue despair; she decisively put down the scalpel used to dissect mice and sought a scalpel that could dissect Chinese society . . . Later, she found it in Marxism. [25]

2. Social Background

Overserving the situation in Chinese society does not necessarily lead to the process of politicization. Seeing needs to be linked with life experience, affective experience, and knowledge under the historicized structure, to generate politicization. It is not due to a “natural,” self-evident sense of justice, but the affect and judgment that one mobilized. This can also be seen in Jasic student activists’ writings of their own experiences. In retrospect, social class does not play a determinative role in whether privileged students become politicized or undergo a leftward shift in China today. According to the self-written experiences of various left-wing activists, particularly university students, since 2008 to the present, there are not many from peasant or migrant worker backgrounds, instead many students come from middle-class families. Similarly, among Jasic student activists, students who come from middle-class families are the majority, as they mention in their “confession statements.”

It’s such a middle-class family that spent 18 years just wanting to cultivate me into a sophisticated self-serving elite, asking me to ignore Yang Gailan, the desperate filicide, the pneumoconiosis workers who die from illness, the Jasic union workers who are oppressed . . . asking me to ignore Gao Yan, Yang Baode, Tao Chongyuan, Wang Xueming who committed suicide because of pressure from the school or teachers . . . [26]

In this statement, Hu Hongfei openly admitted she was from a middle-class background. In fact, more and more university students are coming from a middle-class background as the proportion of rural students in China’s top universities had decreased over the past decade [27]. Although Hu came from a relative well-off background, this did not hinder her to see the widespread and extremely intense social contradictions and to feel them. As Hu mentioned, it was difficult “to ignore Yang Gailan,” “to ignore Guo Yan, Yang Baode, Tao Chongyuan, Wang Xueming” — which are all sharp cases of oppression in China. Therefore, one’s social background does not dictate one’s political position.

However, one’s social and class background does play a significant role in their articulation of China’s problem. When talking about poverty problem, for example, students from middle-class backgrounds tend to relate analyses to a relative within their family or lower-class strangers they frequently encounter in urban spaces, meanwhile, students from working-class backgrounds may directly relate that to the experience of their parents. Jasic activist Xu Zhongliang, who was born in a rural area in Henan, said,

I come from a rural background, and I have many relatives who work in factories. Through contemplating their life experiences, I can keenly feel the unfairness . . . In high school, there were about four to five thousand students, but only less than ten of us went to university in Beijing . . . Unlike those workers, I didn’t have to work in the city at such an early age; I didn’t have to start earning a living so early. [28]

The paragraph shows that his social and class experience did help him to build a class awareness since high school, but it wasn’t until after entering university when he truly encountered Marxist theory and class analysis theory he became fully politicized. Another Jasic activist Zheng Yongming, who grew up in impoverished rural Jiangxi, also directly linked his family background to the realities of migrant workers encountered in his volunteer work and research, which shows that class background and experience does play a role in their politicization of becoming a leftist, as he said,

Because I am the child of workers and farmers, I will always be the child of workers and farmers! Continuing to assist workers and farmers like my parents is the best life for me! . . . Once, during a teaching support program, I encountered a girl who had dropped out of junior high school . . . Her father said they were poor, had no money, and had two younger brothers to support; they couldn’t afford schooling for three children — wasn’t that exactly like my sister and me? Our shared destiny and cycle of life urged me to do something for them. [29]

While the youth from working-class or rural backgrounds often had more understanding of the working class’s situation as they observed their parents’ work, living conditions, and the hardship. Such class experience did not dictate them to become leftists. And for the middle-class youth, because of an abundance in reading resources outside the fortress-like knowledge of school education, they could also explore the lives of the working class through readings. As Yue Xin, a Jasic student activists who had a middle-class background said,

My parents enrolled me in those extracurricular classes, but they never particularly demanded high scores or achievements from me . . . In comparison to my own academic aspirations, my parents were more concerned about my mental well-being . . . Of course, this relatively relaxed educational atmosphere is also related to the specific geographic regions within Beijing. I attended primary school in Dongcheng District, middle school in Xicheng District, and only moved to Haidian District for high school. [30]

Jasic activist Yue Xin specifically mentioned that her political enlightenment came from her school education and extracurricular reading in high school. In addition to being a middle-class child, Yue’s privileged condition is that she grew up in Beijing; because Beijing’s college admission rate is always the highest in the country (which means it is the easiest), and educational resources are abundant, school education must be lenient, even if it is fortress-like, it is much lighter and richer. The lenient atmosphere in both school and home education allowed her the necessary freedom for extensive extracurricular reading and contemplation. During her process of leftist transition, a significant aspect of her contemplation involved linking her economic, cultural, and educational privileges with the unfair social structures in China.

If I can possess even a bit of rational thinking about social issues and a critical spirit toward social injustices, it’s all due to the results of school education and extracurricular reading. However, the reason I can enjoy such high-quality educational resources and extracurricular reading opportunities that most people cannot access ultimately boils down to social injustice. [31]

It’s worth mentioning that these descriptions of one’s own working-class or middle-class family backgrounds, and the reflections on their middle-class backgrounds, was a response to China’s socialist tradition, which emphasizes the “objective relationship between class attributes and class consciousness.” Although the class background of the students does not dictate their leftist shift, middle-class leftist youth often find a profound reflection or even opposition against their own family’s class background an essential step to becoming leftists. In Hu’s statement she said,

They [my parents] live in the “prosperous times” of the urban middle-class, closing their eyes and indulging themselves, not allowing their daughters to open her eyes and face the “ants” all around! However, the unfairness that happens in this society every day has made me unable to bear it. I have long decided to stand against the inverted black-and-white reality, shout for the disadvantaged groups, and run for the oppressed! [32]

3. Campus Experience

If we consider the MLM politics of the Jasic student activists as a type of political subculture in contemporary China [33], we can use the analysis of subcultures to understand the political choice of the Jasic student activists. Similar to various youth subcultures, the MLM politics of Jasic student activists is an active choice in response to mainstream culture [34]. It is worth mentioning that the majority of Jasic student activists are students or graduates from top-tier universities. Their educational backgrounds, campus experiences and their perceptions of these experiences, which will be discussed below, possess certain distinctiveness within the overall population of Chinese university students.

In their writings about personal experiences, Jasic student activists often mentioned that their entire high school education and family upbringing were geared towards cultivating them as “sophisticated self-serving elites” (精緻的利己主義者)[35]. Under such hegemonic culture that encourages pursuing self-interest and social status, paying attention to social issues would be seen as an unpopular choice of interest. As a Jasic activist mentioned,

During high school, I began to pay attention to current events in society. However, very few of my peers seemed interested in these news. On one side, there was an overwhelming amount of homework and exams, while on the other, entertainment gossip and idol chasing occupied the minds of many. I was puzzled. After the college entrance exam, everyone seemed to arrive at university with only adept exam skills and a mindset focused on entertainment and self-absorption. Some seemed content to continue this way for the rest of their lives . . .  [36]

Although some Jasic students were already having budding critical thoughts in high school, as the examination pressure and workload in high school was high, students didn’t have enough time to fully explore various political ideas. Moreover, a popular saying in high school is that “once you get into the university, then you can have fun,” this reflects a common educational perspective that students are expected to put all thoughts behind, so to prioritize achieving in university entrance examinations [37]. In short, everything should be “suspended” to get into the university. Therefore, it was until the students got into the university, they started to explore their politics. However, soon the Jasic student activists will discover that the university could be as depressing as high school, in a sense that the hegemony of “sophisticated self-serving elite” mainstream culture still prevails. Some therefore expressed a sense of confusion and troubledness:

Upon entering Peking University, my parents and relatives took pride in this achievement, thinking that just stepping through the gates of Peking University bestowed a kind of golden shine. However, no one questioned whether the education here could truly help a young person grow into a noble, pure, detached from lowbrow pleasures and beneficial to the people . . .

Correspondingly, those self-centered university students focused solely on their own worlds and personal advancements became the prevalent model within the current system. I fell into deep confusion. I didn’t want to become such a self-centered person, but given the prevailing environment, I didn’t know which way to turn. What troubled me even more was the poignant reality I witnessed in society. [38]

Some even found that the culture of being a “sophisticated self-serving elite,” — being content to a comfortable life, and turning a blind eye on social injustice, is dividing their hearts.

We keenly felt the deep divide between students and workers. On one side of the divide is the comfortable and serene student life, while on the other side, workers are suffering from injustice. As students who are aware of this divide, we deeply feel this division tearing Peking University apart. [39]

Although as seen above, the hegemonic culture to be a “sophisticated self-serving elite” still prevails in universities, being away from home and being freed from examination pressure in high school, still provided them time and space to explore other life options. Hence many joined the Marxist society and started to learn about MLM. To emphasize the culture of “sophisticated self-serving elite” which dominated Jasic students activists’ life experience, is to show that for one to become a MLM, it was not only an intellectual choice, but also a cultural choice. As MLM in China has the legacy of rejecting self-interest and embracing social responsibility, it appears to be an appealing option for youths who want to rebel against the hegemonic mainstream culture of “sophisticated self-serving elite.” MLM was not only a radical political and economic option, but also a radical cultural option, which promised not only to end corruption, undemocratic practices, forced nationalism, wealth disparity, labor exploitation, farmers’ rights, but also to end traditional “dross,” moral “decay,” biased values, and even vulgar tastes.

It is worth mentioning that the concept of “university students must bear social responsibilities” also played an important role in Jasic student activists’ journey to politicization. Since the early 20th century, university students have been a major force in China’s multiple revolutions and struggles. One example of this is Peking University. Being the most prestigious tertiary education institute in China, it was famous not only for its achievement in the world’s academic circle, but also for its reputation in China’s socialist revolution. Many famous revolutionaries, including Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao, the founders of CCP, were teachers at Peking University, even Mao was a librarian of Peking University. This therefore had created a tradition in China’s socialism culture, that students should take up social responsibilities and take up important roles in social changes, even in revolutions, especially for those considered prestigious students from top-tier universities. This self-requirement and self-awareness can be seen in Jasic student activists’ own writings:

The spirit of Peking University is simple; it is about breaking the social apathy and atomization, actively speaking up for the most oppressed yet powerful groups, and seriously striving for them. Such love, such spirit, should not belong solely to Peking University, to Peking University students. [40]

Many discussions about the Peking University students involved in the Jasic incident also emphasized historical events like the May Fourth Movement in 1919 when Peking University students opposed the Northern Warlords, and the anti-starvation and anti-civil war movements against the Chinese Nationalist Party/Kuomintang in 1947. These events were linked to the current Jasic labor movement—“To reignite the glory of Peking University, stand with the working class.”

III. Searching for Clues of Revolution: Becoming a Leftist

1. The Inevitable Path of Liberalism

As previously mentioned in the genealogy part, liberalism remained as the most popular critical thought among young people in the 2000s, which means becoming a liberal is the most fashionable choice if one wants to be critical about social problems. On one hand, to become a leftist, or even to embrace MLM, requires tremendous courage as it would be seen as a veering off from the mainstream society. Many people often ask me the question, “why did the Jasic student activists grow up to be leftists instead of liberals?” Such a question often has an undertone of doubt: people tend to assume that it was because they didn’t know about liberalism, that was why they went for MLM. However, my answer to this is that many Jasic student activists were actually former liberals, and they experienced a transformation from liberalism to Marxism (or even Maoism), which means that not only were these Jasic student activists fully familiar with liberalism discourses, but  also shared similar political sentiments as liberals. All in all, the Jasic student activists may have more in common with the liberals than many people think.

Looking back at the 2000’s, social commentary resources available to teenagers mainly came from teachers of their 30s and 40s, influential mainstream and non-mainstream cultural critics who were nurtured in the 1990s (such as music and film critics), and internet blog writers, also known as “public intellectuals”. These influencers were broadly liberal or even anti-Communist, many are satirical of the Communist Party, communism, and left-wing politics. Some examples include Qin Hui (秦暉), Yu Jianrong (于建嶸), He Weifang (賀衛方), Zhang Yihe (章詒和), and social reports such as Chinas Peasant Investigation (中國農民調查). Besides, the extensively published oral histories of “rightists” at that time also served as crucial reading materials for many young people to understand the history of the Mao Zedong era and gain access to perspectives differing from the official narrative.

These resources provided young people with extensive new concepts and theoretical tools, such as the rule of law, constitutionalism, authoritarianism, judiciary, and liberalism. Under the help of these concepts and theories, many people had a more structured understanding of social reality and social history. However, liberalism did not only bring in new concepts, but also brought in criticism towards the Mao era. For example, the liberals often emphasized the success of Xiaogang Village (小崗村) and the household contract responsibility system (家庭聯產承包責任制) and saw them as cases supporting the legitimacy of the era of Reform and Opening-Up policy. The liberals believed that the collective land ownership of the “People’s Communes” in the Mao era which persisted after reform and opening up, was a constraint on productivity and economic development.  The liberals also often brought up the experiences of “rightists” during the Anti-Rightist Campaign and the Cultural Revolution, to criticize the Mao era. The discursive mode of liberalism, therefore forming negative views towards the Mao Zedong era and positive view towards the Reform era. The liberals in China painted leftists as conservatives and traditionalists and linked leftist ideas to the memories of disasters during the Mao Zedong era. On the other hand, they present liberal or even neo-liberal ideas as forward-looking and open-minded, as they are connected to the external world (particularly, the West).

However, when the Marxist societies encouraged the student members, who were mostly liberals at the beginning, to research on China’s contemporary problem, these students immediately found the liberal and neoliberal agendas aforementioned problematic. As they were deeply sympathetic to the situation of migrant workers, they could no longer be satisfied with the liberals’ agenda. As MLM political agenda promised no tolerance of these social problems, and rejected the claim that China must endure labor oppression during the transitional period of reform, it has become a more attractive political and economic agenda than liberalism and neo-liberalism.

2. As the Native Resource of the Communist Revolution, the Vast Ocean of Knowledge

Pun Ngai once stated a characteristic of Jasic student activists, is that she had observed that the Jasic student activists were very keen to refer to the history of socialist China when seeking a way out for China [41]. Why would the Jasic student activists, often reference the situation of China to this historical era, instead of referencing other leftwing theories and historical experiences? This has a lot to do with their knowledge resources. As these former liberal students started to become suspicious of their past liberal beliefs and veer off from the mainstream liberal path in search of a MLM solution, the easiest historical resources and reference they would be able to find was the socialist history or China.

I termed the referencing choice of Jasic student activists an “easy” one, was because Marxism was taught in all secondary schools in China. Although the curriculum was highly depoliticized [42], in a sense that it only focused on the current regime’s ideology, but not engaging with “living” socialist politics or addressing contemporary issues. However, unlike some anti-communism school curriculum in Taiwan or Hong Kong, such a castrated Marxism curriculum in China, although lacking explanatory power to any real social issues, would not make students hate socialism or hate revolution. Terms such as class struggle, socialism, communism, revolution, revolutionaries, politics, Marxism, Leninism, still had a positive impression in students’ mind. And the curriculum still touches on the history of CCP and its socialist revolution. Therefore, it has become the most accessible leftist intellectual resources to students who are eager to explore more on MLM ideas.

Not only did the readily available resources of CCP’s socialist history become an abundant reservoir of knowledge for the Jasic student activists, providing these students with the knowledge about socialist experiences and practices. These historical knowledge also provided sets of aesthetics and styles for these Jasic student activists to reference. In China’s socialist aesthetics emphasized the aesthetics of workers, peasants, and regional culture. All these could be seen in Jasic student activists’ writing style. It is also worth mentioning that the leftist knowledge resources in China often covered ideas about anti-imperialism, pro-Third World, and a progressive view of history. These ideas were nearly bundled together with anti-capitalism and class struggle and had a central role in China’s leftwing knowledge. These ideas were also very visible in Jasic student activists’ writing, showing that the students were deeply influenced by China’s past socialist knowledge.

IV. What Kind of Leftists Have They Become?—After Becoming Leftists

Let us take up the courage and strength of our comrades in prison and continue the fight! We believe that the spirit of leftist students, like a bold eagle, cannot be confined within the walls of a prison.

We believe that the forces of darkness and evil will surely be dispelled by the power of light and justice! [43]

We represent not ourselves but the interests of millions of people. As long as class struggle exists in society and reactionary forces are against the people, the struggle of the masses will not cease, and new forces joining the solidarity movement will not be extinguished. The personal sacrifices are merely a test of individual steadfastness; the overall historical struggle will never stop due to the attacks of the Guangdong police. This is dialectics of history and a materialist perspective of people’s history

 We firmly believe that the masses are the subjects of history, and any force not relying on the masses will ultimately perish. We started off as weak, but because we are just and rely on the masses, our voice has not disappeared, our ranks have not been defeated, and our comrades still persist at the forefront of the struggle . . . The cause of the people will be passed down from generation to generation until eternity, while the momentary arrogance of reactionary forces is just their struggle before exiting the stage of history…

 The struggle of the Jasic student activists is a new milestone in the widespread enlightenment of left-wing thought, a new starting point for mass awakening and the march toward united struggle. Let us face the cost, continue the struggle, not disappoint the expectations of the masses, not betray the trust of the people, make a determined effort, fear no sacrifice, overcome all obstacles, and strive for victory! [44]

However, there is no happiness to speak of, personal happiness is shameful . . . If you lack sufficient courage, then temper yourself in the storm! Cultivate resilience in the face of difficulties at every moment! Strengthen your wings. The motto for our youth is courage, tenacity, and firmness—eliminate all obstacles. Let’s stride forward with determination, dear comrades! Devote our entire lives and all our energy to the most magnificent cause in the world—the struggle for the liberation of humanity! [45]

Existing media reports and commentaries go as far as pointing out that there are strong Maoist characteristics in these writings. For example, “Let us face the cost, continue the struggle, not disappoint the expectations of the masses, not betray the trust of the people, make a determined effort, fear no sacrifice, overcome all obstacles, and strive for victory!” was a famous saying of Mao. However, I would like to point out that, not only did these writings inherited the language style of CCP, and referenced Mao’s word, the analogies they used, the historical event they referenced, were a language style specific to the  socialist revolutionary period, which was the period of time before 1949, when CCP had not yet come into power. One can find that phrases such as “keep on the struggle,” “endure the hardship,” and “don’t be afraid of sacrifice,” appears almost in every report and mobilization article of Jasic student activists. These are all popular phrases used by the CCP during its socialist revolution.

Similarly, just by looking at the photos  of the Jasic student activists at the movement site and their mobilization efforts online, one can leave with a strong impression of the physical characteristics reminiscent of the Mao Zedong era. In promotional photos at the movement site, they often wear identical clothing and strike poses reminiscent of the positive characters from the Cultural Revolution’s celebratory dances (such as the “loyalty dance” and “model opera”). In various videos expressing solidarity with the arrested comrades, the Jasic student activists enthusiastically shout slogans in a tone reminiscent of socialist artistic works while making fist gestures [46]. These images and body language not only embody the virtue of “keep on the struggle” and “endure the hardship” but also reflect the aesthetic qualities of socialist ideals.

Figure 1. Jasic Workers Solidarity Group, Huizhou, Guangdong Province, 2018 (source: Twitter of Jasic Workers Solidarity Group)

Figure 2. Jasic Workers Solidarity Group with strike pose, Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, 2018 (source: Yuexin’s Wechat)

Figure 3. Jasic Workers Solidarity Group, Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, 2018 (source: Twitter of Jasic Workers Solidarity Group)

Figure 4. Jaisc student activists from Renmin University of China showing support for Zhan Zhenzhen who was expelled from Peking University, 2019 (source:

To say that the Jasic student activists were using China’s socialist revolution era aesthetic style because this aligned with their political ideologies or historical traditions is not a wrong saying, but an over-simplified explanation of their aesthetic choice. The underlying affective structure behind these linguistic choices, was a sense of marginal and loneliness, which was a characteristics could be captured in CCP’s writing. Marginal and loneliness was also the spiritual traits of Jasic student activists. The affective, mental, and intellectual states of the left-wing are highly interdependent and entangled, which is the reason why Mao Zedong emphasized the transformation of revolutionaries’ souls and why Western critical theory takes the subject state as the foundation for revolution. In today’s mainland China, the affective structure of the left-wing is one of loneliness and deep-seated resentment, which causes left-wing students to cling tightly to existing left-wing knowledge. The mental and living conditions praised by the CCP’s revolutionary history and knowledge, which include struggle, hardship, simplicity, steadfastness, and sacrifice, have become the sought-after qualities of Jasic student activists who are striving to transform themselves.

1. Marginalization and Loneliness

Firstly, the marginalization and loneliness experienced by the Jasic student activists primarily stem from their identification with the leftist. Being a young person with political ideals is difficult and lonely in today’s China, where there is an official and educational socialist system that is both rigid and inconsistent. Feeling aversion towards politics, Marxism, socialism, and revolution is a normal and common sentiment of them. If it is reasonable for young people to become liberals in rebellion under such education, then becoming Marxist is a “rebellion” that is difficult for contemporaries to understand. Furthermore, MLM is considered even more “uncool” within the left-wing political culture because it is largely unrelated to contemporary left-wing theories and disconnected from the subcultures and artistic practices of today’s youth. Thus, under the affective structure of knowing that they are considered “unreasonable,” “undesirable” and “uncool” while believing that they possess the truth of historical change, the sharp contradictions of today’s Chinese society not only make these left-wing students feel lonely but also great bitterness.

In the earlier discussion about the identity of elite students, it was mentioned that politicization and embracing left-wing ideologies are quite marginal among university students who generally lean towards self-interest. We can observe many narratives of their daily lives about sacrificing a career after graduating as privileged students to become activists. In this marginal state, the Jasic student activists perceive the virtues of their own struggle, hardship, and sacrifice as a distinguishing and prideful quality from mainstream youth.

The arrests of Jiayue and other students and workers might be seen as meaningless sacrifices by some; as naive struggles by others… The solidarity group’s workers and students show us the outstanding qualities of being willing to sacrifice, being brave in the struggle, pursuing equality, and not fearing authoritarianism . . . These excellent qualities, though scorned by the mainstream for 40 years, still shine brightly on the bodies of left-wing youth today, enduring, and resilient! [47]

Furthermore, this sense of marginalization and loneliness stems from the lack of understanding or even suppression within their families, a common theme in the writings of the Jasic student activists. As mentioned earlier in the discussion about the identity of privileged students, they strive to break free from the expectations imposed by their middle-class families. After experiencing arrests and surveillance, both the state apparatus and the school utilize family pressure to exert influence on them. This requires them to mobilize even more persistence and the spirit of sacrifice to face immense challenges:

Family is the most vulnerable place for everyone and the easiest to be manipulated by dark forces. We know that many parents have been brainwashed by them, saying that we are involved in pyramid schemes, manipulated by foreign forces, and so on. However, each time we face these accusations, we encourage and support each other, trying to persuade our parents, seeking their understanding and support. But some parents cannot be convinced, they make trouble and harass us in various ways. Some parents even come directly to our events, attempting to take away their children, and even slapping students. Despite all this, the students do not retreat and continue to persist . . . The increasing number of students joining also proves the justice of the solidarity group. Jasic student activists always move towards the light, their pure support for justice is something those who have long been tainted by society’s poison of selfishness and self-interest can never comprehend [48]. It can be observed that family pressure has kept them in a state of prolonged loneliness, making community support even more crucial.

Finally, this sense of loneliness and marginalization becomes even more pronounced when facing harsh repression from the state apparatus. As seen in “Peking University’s Missing Student Jiao Bairong’s Message to Youth Friends,” there was already an emphasis on “courage”, “tenacity”, and “firmness” in the early stages of the widespread mobilization of the Jasic labor movement. After the movement faced brutal repression, narratives emphasizing struggle, hardship, and sacrifice became even more common:

The current situation is by no means entirely dark. Despite the seemingly powerful dark forces, Chairman Mao said, “All the reactionaries are the Papertiger” . . . The more they oppress the people, the stronger the people become! Instead of living in silence and fear, it’s better to continue the fight and persist to the end! Even if the violent clearing on August 24 ends in a way we never imagined, we will not let down those who strive for the toiling masses, and we will not let them think that left-wing youth who believe in Marxism-Leninism-Maoism are just a group of cowards who tremble at difficulties! [49]

Just as Mao Zedong’s words are quoted here, “All the reactionaries are the Papertiger,” and in “November 19 | Good News in the Struggle of Jasic Workers’ Support Group!” where it states, “We believe that the spirit of leftist students, like a bold eagle, cannot be confined within the walls of a prison. We believe that the forces of darkness and evil will surely be dispelled by the power of light and justice!” [50] In the state of marginalization and loneliness, the emphasis on struggle is often linked to a progressive worldview. This is not only a presentation of the Jasic student activists’ mental state but also a declaration to themselves and their comrades through writing when facing immense adversity.

2. Language of New Democratic Revolution and Limitations of the Knowledge

In my view, the linguistic and narrative characteristics of the Jasic student activists are the consequences of their marginalized and lonely state within the social and political context of China. This compels them to urgently seek intellectual resources and political solutions, which they then adhere to. The limited knowledge leads to their extensive and frequent use of the language of the New Democratic Revolution. However, this language is insufficient in addressing the new problems of contemporary capitalist society. In the political and left-leaning state of loneliness and bitterness, left-wing elite students continue to seek a revolutionary way out. If they can explore a way out as soon as possible, they can stabilize themselves quickly to fight against loneliness and bitterness. The official socialist revolutionary history narratives and official Marxist education provided by the authorities and schools have already established an existing knowledge base. In this condition, the smoothest, easiest, and quickest resource is the knowledge of Chinese communist revolution history, socialist China, and Marxist theory provided by the school education. Grasping these resources firmly becomes the most available way for left-wing elite students to solve their political confusion and personal mental turmoil. However, although the knowledge they have stabilized as a revolutionary way out after their left-wing transformation is not limited to school education, their way of expanding knowledge of revolutionary solutions is based on school knowledge as a heavy anchor, which is reading more Marxist classics before WWII, Chinese communist revolution history, and socialist China history on this foundation (especially as to students nurtured in Marxist society of college campus).

On various platforms where the Jasic student activists voice their opinions, the language, narratives, and perspectives seen in their articles are highly reminiscent of the earlier quoted passage—a language reflective of the New Democratic Revolution in Chinese socialist revolutionary tradition. The narrative performance mirrors the comparison of present-day Jasic student activists to members of the Chinese Communist Party and leftist youth before the establishment of People’s Republic of China, paralleling their struggle against oppression by the warlord government and the Kuomintang regime to the current ruling party’s oppression. Simultaneously, in terms of linguistic style, it bears resemblance to the writings of Chinese Communist Party members during the New Democratic era and frequently quotes Mao Zedong. An important aim of this narrative is to mobilize themselves to emulate the spirit of the Chinese Communist Party members of that era:

A hundred years ago in China, imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucratic capitalism oppressed the vast masses of workers and peasants. Similarly, the youth raised the cry of “Our country, our nation!” and embarked on the path to liberation for the workers and peasants. A hundred years later in China, beneath the prosperity of the cities, there are millions of workers struggling on assembly lines . . . Good-hearted people, all those oppressed, we hope you open your eyes. The support group will prove through action, we will always stand with you! [51]

This narrative clearly draws from texts of the Chinese socialist revolutionary history, something challenging to find in contemporary left-wing texts in China or the post-war Western left. This strong language rooted in the tradition of the Chinese socialist revolution demonstrates the solidity of their rhetoric and reveals their knowledge resources are highly akin.

Why did the Guangdong police use such despicable means to smear Shen Mengyu and the Jasic Workers’ Movement? On the one hand, they are eager to take credit and seek rewards, to become servants of the authorities and capital. On the other hand, fundamentally, it is because the Guangdong police have long been on the opposite side of the people and socialism. Their thinking is no different from the running dogs of the police who sold themselves to the privileged in the KMT-controlled areas [國統區]. Are they the public security department in the socialist country “serving the people” or the secret police in KMT-controlled areas who are against Marxism and persecute the people?

 When the Guangdong police extend their evil hands to the people, it will only bring stronger resistance and faster destruction to themselves—Li Yuanzhu’s voice of resistance is the best proof. Their goal of smearing Shen Mengyu, smearing the support group, and smearing the Jasic Workers’ Movement will never be achieved. Their intention to convict workers and students will never succeed. The days when they ride on the heads of the people and behave lawlessly will eventually be buried by the people! [52]

One of the manifestations of the limitations of their ideological resources is the steadfastness towards the language of the New Democracy Revolution and a progressive historical perspective. This limitation becomes evident in the mismatch between their discourse and historical viewpoint. In this paragraph, Jasic students liken “enemies” to the Chinese Nationalist Party/Kuomintang and warlords, aiming to draw parallels between today’s oppression of students and the struggles of left-wing students during the New Democratic Revolution. Additionally, they emphasize the criticism of bureaucracy, which is the core idea of Maoism, and it was also a significant theoretical contribution by Mao Zedong during the Cultural Revolution. But they rarely employ the language of the Cultural Revolution.

This kind of narrative and discourse does indeed carry a critical stance towards capitalism and bureaucratic politics in current society. It also reflects the limitations of socialist knowledge that the Jasic student activists have been exposed to through their schooling. In school education, socialist knowledge is being reexamined with a renewed but partial focus on the New Democratic Revolution. The history of the Chinese communist revolution after the founding of PRC is not adequately discussed, and the Cultural Revolution is only briefly mentioned. The history of PRC is rigidly divided into before and after Reform and Opening-up period. These issues can all be observed within the narrative presented in the quoted passages.

The limitations of their ideological resources are not only evident in the mismatch between their discourse and historical perspective, but also in their lack of engagement with other leftist theories beyond Marxist classics, CCP’s knowledge, and analysis of contemporary issues using classical Marxism. Today’s left-wing students, those who have exposure to Western Marxism, cultural studies, and other contemporary leftist theories are mainly students of literary criticism, sociology, and cultural studies. In other words, Jasic students mainly rely on revolutionary language and discourse from a century ago to explain the present, which fails to accurately capture the state of capitalist economics and life today besides the criticism of class oppression and bureaucracy.

Furthermore, these qualities, when combined with their inherently lonely and marginalized mentality and their largely uniform bodily experiences, firmly anchor them in the political and economic liberation highlighted in MLM. This greatly limits their exploration of crucial components beyond class liberation in contemporary capitalist society, such as aspects related to life, physical embodiment, and emotional responses. In other words, as mentioned earlier, the richness of existing socialist knowledge resources and their marginal status contribute to significant constraints on the imagination and exploration of revolution in contemporary capitalist society [53].

The bodies and discourse of the Jasic student activists is a high degree of mental and ideological steadfastness. This comes from the revolutionary mentality of the CCP’s history, the confidence in historical progress, the gradual accumulation of practice inside and outside of the campus, and the unity of Jasic student activists. Steadfastness has an inherent trait of being unshakable, but for the left-wing students who are in the current atmosphere of Chinese society and for most of the scenes of the Jasic labor movement, it is appropriate and necessary to adhere to this steadfastness. However, as we can see from the analysis of the affective structure of Jasic student activists in the previous text, steadfastness and hardness are two sides of the same coin as loneliness, bitterness, and marginalization. Hopefully, this can interact rather than reinforce each other, so that they may open an unstable and unrestrictive state of affect, life, mentality, and knowledge in their continued exploration of revolution, thus initiating a broader exploration of revolutionary energy.


The Jasic labor movement and Jasic student activists have showcased the existence of a fringe political group known as MLM to the outside world. The crackdown on the Jasic labor movement by the state apparatus lasted from 2018 into early 2019, expanding in 2019-2020 to target MLM and labor NGO activists. The Jasic student activists paid a heavy price—imprisonment, house arrest, surveillance, and expulsion from universities. Also, they also imposed significant costs on the labor movement—several labor NGOs closed, labor movement activists and workers lost vital connections.

As of August 2023, the Jasic labor movement has endured five years of repression, and most leftist youth involved in the movement have been released on bail, beginning new lives under surveillance. However, the momentum left by the Jasic labor movement persists. Within China’s left-wing political community, especially among MLM and revolutionary Marxists, the reflection and critique of the Jasic labor movement, and its reconfiguration of socialist revolution in China, continue unabated. A major reflection of the Jasic labor movement revolves around whether it was organizer-driven, lacking a strong foundation in grassroots worker organizing. Furthermore, their application of Lenin’s vanguardism—where professional organizers act as the vanguard disseminating ideas to workers—raises questions about its suitability within China’s political-economic environment. Lastly, the “integration into the working class” methodology pursued by the Jasic student activists, involving middle-class university graduates entering factories to build a vanguard party, raises questions about its applicability and the specific methodologies for implementation in the present context.

In fact, the MLM network in universities, represented by Jasic student activists, is just one part of contemporary Maoism in China and a significant force within this ideological spectrum. This article focuses on the context of Jasic student activists becoming MLM, examining individual reasons and pathways, without digging into the reasons and pathways for the shaping of the Jasic student activists faction within the broader Maoist community. The formation of this faction is a result of interactions between the late 90’s and early 2000’s party-affiliated Maoists, intellectual Maoists, and leftist university societies in Beijing. Maoists outside the campus organized numerous events for university students, including lectures and exchanges involving party-affiliated Maoists, socialist-era workers, and laid-off workers. Through these connections, leftist university groups gradually converged around MLM political ideas, becoming a force within the Maoist community, somewhat independent and not subservient to or controlled by external Maoist factions. Post-2008, MLM societies in university in Beijing notably radicalized and around 2010 started directly organizing workers in the Pearl River Delta region.

This article does not delineate or analyze the political ideas and strategies adopted by the Jasic student activists post their adoption of MLM. Just as their political force gradually evolved within the MLM political community, their political ideas and strategies are intertwined with and distinctive from the wider MLM community. They continue to engage in debates with other leftist, Maoist, and MLM political ideas. Among their crucial political concepts are contemporary China’s political-economic analysis, China’s position within the global capitalist system, the path for socialist revolution in present-day China, organizational methods for establishing Leninist vanguardism, and the relationship between university-educated intellectual laborers and the working class.

In my future research project, I aim to delve deeper into the formation pathways of university MLM political forces, the relationships among various MLM factions in contemporary China, the ideological debates within these political forces, and the position of contemporary Chinese MLM within the global MLM spectrum. This article can be considered a backdrop for this research plan.

Kuo Jia is a Ph.D. candidate at the Institute of Social Research and Cultural Studies, (Taiwan) National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University. Jia is the executive editor of Renjian Thought Reviews and part-time editor of academic works. Their research interests include post-war East Asian left-wing thought, Maoism, and people’s art.


[1] This essay defines Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ideology within the context of the international communist movement. “MLM” is the common short for for both Marxist-Leninist-Maoist and Marxism-Leninism-Maoism within the context of contemporary Marxist-Leninist-Maoist politics. Marxist-Leninist-Maoist refers to a political group adhering to the theoretical framework of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. MLM is also a common self-identification used by a new generation of Maoists, especially the revolutionary fraction from 2012 to the present, to distinguish themselves from Maoist reformists. Similarly, the term “Marxist-Leninist-Maoist” used in this essay referring to the revolutionary fraction, to distinguish from the broader gourp of Maoists.

In the knowledge production of Western liberalism and conservatism, one who claims adherence to Mao Zedong’s ideology are often labeled as Maoists. This type of writing tends to blur the lines between the official ideological claims of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the political ideologies of grassroots Maoist proponents.

[2] New Democratic Revolution was a core element of Mao Zedong’s ideology, regarding the leadership of the proletarian democratic revolution in colonial and semi-colonial countries. New Democratic Revolution is a revolution led by the proletariat (through the Communist Party), aimed at opposing imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucratic capitalism. Its goal is a timely transition from New Democracy to socialism. According to this theory, the May Fourth Movement marked the beginning and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China marked the victory of the Chinese New Democratic Revolution.

[3] Most mainstream media often refer to these activists as “left-wing youth.” Within these reports, the term “Maoist youth” and “Maoist leftist” is also mentioned, but its meaning remains unclear, and it doesn’t define the political ideologies of these youths. See Ranran, “The Rise of the Left-Wing Youth in China and the State Suppression” (中國左翼青年的崛起和官方的打壓) (December 28, 2018), BBC NEWS, [Accessed November 10, 2023]; Fulin, “The Jasic Workers Solidarity Group Incident: Yue Xin and 4 Others Allegedly Seen Confessing on Video” (佳士工人聲援團事件:岳昕等4人被爆出鏡認罪影片) (January 21, 2019), Radio France Internationale, %e4%bd%b3%e5%a3%ab%e5%b7%a5%e4%ba%ba%e5%a3%b0%e6%8f%b4%e5%9b%a2 %e4%ba%8b%e4%bb%b6%e5%b2%b3%e6%98%95%e7%ad%894%e4%ba%ba%e8%a2%a b%e7%88%86%e5%87%ba%e9%95%9c%e8%ae%a4%e7%bd%aa%e8%a7%86%e9%a2%91 [Accessed November 10, 2023]; “Shenzhen Jasic Workers Fight for Rights: Left-wing Youth and Political Demands” (深圳佳士工人維權:左翼青年與政治訴求) (August 16, 2018), BBC NEWS, [Accessed November 10, 2023].

[4] In this essay, “left-wing” refers to a broad political spectrum encompassing Marxists, anarchists, Trotskyists, Marxist-Leninist-Maoists, liberal left, and other diverse political groups. This essay does not distinguish between the reference to “left-wing” in Mainland China and the “left-wing” outside of Mainland China. In the knowledge production of Western liberalism and conservatism after 1976, there was once an assertion that the Western “left-wing” and the Chinese “left-wing” were opposed. This viewpoint considered individuals inclined towards socialism in China as conservatives sympathetic to the Chinese Communist Party. It was a perspective tinted with anti-communist sentiments from the Cold War era, conflating the political community favoring the Chinese government with broader left-wing spectrum.

[5] It must be acknowledged that we do not have enough information to understand the specific organizational methods of the emerging left-wing youths (such as Jasic student activists), nor do we believe that publicly discussing Jasic student activists’ organizational methods is appropriate behavior at the moment of sever suppression.

[6] “New Left” was not a political or intellectual faction but a term assigned during the intellectual debates in 90s. Their ‘newness’ lies in their departure from the prevailing system of political leftism and intellectualism rooted in classical Marxism and Mao Zedong Thought. In reality, they align more closely with the Western “liberal left”.

[7] “Liberal” was also a term assigned during the intellectual debates in 90s. In fact, the intellectuals referred to as “Liberal” were quite diverse, encompassing neoliberal scholars as well as liberal scholars critical of pure laissez-faire economics.

[8] In the political spectrum of the Chinese left-wing, “Maoists” refer to a fraction such as the “Gang of Four” who adhered to Mao Zedong’s theory of “continuing revolution” during the Cultural Revolution. After a resurgence in the mid-1990s, a group of individuals who believed in Mao Zedong’s thought began self-identifying as “Maoists.” Some also identified themselves as “Maoist leftists” (to differentiate from “Maoist rightists”). Chinese liberal and right-wing individuals often use the term “Maoist leftist” to refer to Maoists with a sense of disdain, implying that Mao Zedong was not genuinely on the left. However, “Maoist” remains the most commonly used term both within and outside the Maoist community..

[9] The main tenets of Trotskyism include permanent revolution, opposition to bureaucracy, worker democracy, self-emancipation of workers, and proletarian internationalism. After being completely purged in the 50’s in China, Trotskyist ideas have resurfaced and started to develop again among the younger generation on the leftists in the 21st century. For Chinese MLM, Trotskyists pose several conflicts concerning the Cultural Revolution, the vanguard’s role, and the relationship with the working class.

[10] The main characteristics of Stalinism are authoritarianism, the construction of socialism in one country, a highly centralized planned economy, and a bureaucratic system. Because socialism in Mao Zedong’s era in China shared many characteristics with Stalinism, numerous Chinese Maoists also exhibit traits associated with Stalinism. But for some Chinese MLM, especially those who emphasize anti-bureaucracy, Stalinism conflicts with many principles of MLM principles.

[11] “Royalist” refers to the leftist faction that aligns closely with the Chinese Communist Party within the context of Chinese politics. Their political ideology was considered by revolutionary MLM as reformist. They believed that to achieve a socialist political agenda, the primary task was to prevent China from undergoing Westernization politically and economically. The main approach to realizing this political agenda was by rectifying the CCP’s revisionist path and steering it back toward the socialist track. The specific strategy of this political agenda involved supporting Bo Xilai, who served as Communist Party Secretary of Chongqing at the time. Royalist was perceived to be more aligned with socialist principles and was seen as representing a political faction in opposition to the supreme authority within the Chinese Communist Party at that time.

[12] See Pun Ngai and Lu Huilin (2010), “Unfinished Proletarianization: Self, Anger and Class Action among the Second Generation of Peasant-Workers in Present-Day China,” Modern China, 36 (5): 493-519.

[13] In contrast, liberal discourses have consistently lacked explanatory power in addressing labor issues, failing to provide solutions for the structural exploitation of workers under capitalism. Chinese neoliberal economists often emphasize that exploitation of labor will diminish with more sophisticated market mechanisms. Liberal sociologists stress the improvement of labor regulations to better safeguard workers’ rights, while activists in the liberal labor movement mainly engage in legal assistance, policy advocacy, and labor protest.

[14] See Pun Ngai and Chris King-chi Chan (2008), “The Subsumption of Class Discourse in China,” Boundary 2, 35 (2): 75-91; Lee Ching Kwan and Shen Yuan (2009), “China: The Paradox and Possibility of a Public Sociology of Labor,” Work and Occupations, 36 (2): 110-125; Chan, Chris King-Chi, and Pun Ngai (2009), “The Making of a New Working Class? A Study of Collective Actions of Migrant Workers in South China,” The China Quarterly, 198: 287-303; Pun Ngai, Shen Yuan, Guo Yuhua, Lu Huilin, Jenny Chan, & Mark Selden (2014), “Worker-Intellectual Unity: Trans-Border Sociological Intervention in Foxconn,” Current Sociology, 62(2): 209-222.

[15] See Yeung W-JJ. (2013), “Higher Education Expansion and Social Stratification in China,” Chinese Sociological Review, 45 (4): 54-80; Li H, Loyalka P, Rozelle S, Wu B & Xie J (2015), “Unequal Access to College in China: How Far Have Poor, Rural Students been Left behind?” The China Quarterly, 221: 185-207; Ding Y, Wu Y, Yang J, Ye X. (2021), “The Elite Exclusion: Stratified Access and Production during the Chinese Higher Education Expansion,” High Education, 82 (2): 323-347.

[16] From 2005-2010, strikes in China as a percent of total reported events kept increasing, and peaked in 2009. See “No Way Forward, No Way Back: China in the Era of Riots” (2016), Chuang, [Accessed Nov 10, 2023].

[17] Around 2010, there were more than 10 incidents of workers committed or attempted suicide at the Shenzhen Foxconn production base, which served as Apple’s subcontractor.

[18] In 2010, a massive strike involving around 2,000 workers erupted at the Nanhai Honda factory (Guangzhou). During this strike, workers explicitly demanded the restructuring of the union, which was seen as a milestone in the emergence of a spontaneous labor movement by the new generation of workers.

[19] In the past five years, both Chinese and Western media often depict China’s younger generation as undergoing a widespread “leftward shift.” This so-called “leftward shift” includes nationalists who have a significant voice among online communities, as well as a younger generation discussing non-political issues using Marxist or Maoist language on social media platforms. In my view, this depiction does not signify a political leftward shift, as discussed in this essay, but rather represents a younger generation expressing anger and venting frustration about issues encompassing Chinese politics, economics, culture, ethnicity, gender and international relations.

[20] Meanwhile, among those more steeped in socialist traditions, particularly retired workers and officials, there was a deeper criticism of the current situation. However, their profound connection to the ruling party led them to hope for adjustments within the party towards a more socialist path to address present issues—issues perceived as stemming from the erosion caused by global capitalism and the dominance of the domestic bourgeoisie.

[21] “A Peking University Student’s Self-Description: I Am not An Ignorant Youth Who is Manipulated” (一位北大同學的自述:我不是被裹挾的無知青年) (November 17, 2018), Jasic Workers Solidarity Group (佳士工人聲援團官網), [Accessed Nov 10, 2023].

[22] “A Review of Confession Video: Poor Acting Skills, Self-Directed Performance” (一評”認罪影片”:演技拙劣無能,可笑自導自演) (January 21, 2019), Jasic Workers Solidarity Group (佳士工人聲援團官網), [Accessed Nov 10, 2023].

[23] “A Peking University Student’s Self-Description: I Am Not An Ignorant Youth Who Is Manipulated.”

[24] “A Peking University Student’s Self-Description: I Am not An Ignorant Youth Who is Manipulated.”

[25] “Left-wing youth Gu Jiayue, arrested on August 24 | The Most Dazzling Red Star” (8.24被捕左翼青年顧佳悅|最閃耀的那顆紅星) (September 5, 2018), Jasic Workers Solidarity Group (佳士工人聲援團官網), [Accessed Nov 10, 2023].

[26] “Hu Hongfei, Nanjing University: Before I Stepped onto The Stage of The Fifth Canteen to Give A Speech, I was ‘Imprisoned’ at Home for 46 Days” (南京大學胡弘菲:走上第五食堂台階演講之前,我被「囚禁」在家46天) (October 19, 2018), Jasic Workers Solidarity Group (佳士工人聲援團官網), [Accessed Apr 6, 2023].

[27] See Li H, Loyalka P, Rozelle S, Wu B & Xie J (2015), “Unequal Access to College in China: How Far Have Poor, Rural Students been Left behind?” The China Quarterly, 221: 185-207.

[28] “Graduate of Beijing University of Science and Technology, Xu Zhongliang — The driving force of protest stems from grassroots rural areas” (北京科技大學畢業生徐忠良——抗爭動力源於農村基層) (September 8, 2018), Jasic Workers Solidarity Group (佳士工人聲援團官網), [Accessed Nov 10, 2023].

[29] “I Will Forever Be A Child of The Workers and Peasants — Mao Zedong Made Me The ‘Instigator’” (我永遠是工農的孩子 —— 是毛澤東讓我成為“主謀”) (November 18, 2018), RedChinaCn (紅色中國網), [Accessed Apr 6, 2023].

[30] Yue She specifically mentioned her experience of attending schools in different districts. Haidian District is known for having the best performance in the college entrance examination in Beijing. The competition among students in this district is particularly fierce during primary and secondary school stages. Yue Xin, “A Confession of a Peking University Insider” (一個北大既得利益者的自述) (December 1, 2016), Mutianwuhua (木田無花), [Accessed Apr 6, 2023].

[31] Yue Xin, “A Confession of a Peking University Insider.”

[32] “Hu Hongfei, Nanjing University: Before I Stepped onto The Stage of The Fifth Canteen to Give A Speech, I was ‘Imprisoned’ at Home for 46 Days.”

[33] In addition to this political subculture, contemporary China also harbors various political subcultures associated with MLM, Maoism, or the figures of revolutionaries. For example, in rural households, there is a practice of venerating portraits or sculptures of Mao Zedong. Among the middle-aged and elderly population, there is cosplay related to the images of the Red Army and the Red Guards. Within the younger generation, there are derivative works related to the Soviet Union, Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zedong, employing the aesthetic of Japanese animation.

[34] Maoist culture in contrast to most of contemporary Chinese political culture is notably marked by its stylization, cultural symbols, connections to identity, and distinct subcultural characteristics. Facing contemporary subcultures, the Birmingham School’s subcultural theory seems somewhat inadequate. However, it holds explanatory power when applied to contemporary Chinese Maosits. For example, the cultural production of the older generation of Maoist culture exhibited class-based characteristics, while the younger generation’s cultural production reflects generational traits; the interaction between Maoist subculture and mainstream political culture exhibits pronounced resistant qualities under the cultural hegemony mechanism.

Meanwhile, the younger generation of Maoists after 2010 notably embodies the characteristics of contemporary internet subcultures. Hence, contemporary post-subcultural theories that surpass the Birmingham School’s approach possess greater explanatory power. See Andy Bennett. 2004. “Virtual Subculture? Youth, Identity and the Internet,” in Andy Bennett and Keith Kahn-Harris ed. After Subculture: Critical Studies in Contemporary Youth Culture. New York: Palgrave Macmillan; Pepper G. Glass. 2012. “Doing Scene: Identity, Space, and the Interactional Accomplishment of Youth Culture.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 41: 695-716.

[35] “Hu Hongfei, Nanjing University: Before I Stepped onto The Stage of The Fifth Canteen to Give A Speech, I was ‘Imprisoned’ at Home for 46 Days.”

[36] “A Peking University Student’s Self-Description: I Am not An Ignorant Youth Who is Manipulated.”

[37] See Yang X., Song N. (2016), “A Multi-Analysis of Students’ Workload: A Case Study of Nine Provinces and Cities,” Journal of East China Normal University (Education & Science), 34:52-61; Liu Y., Sang B. (2020), “Academic Emotional Expression in Middle School Students and Its Relation with Academic Emotion,” Journal of Psychological Science, 43:600-607; Yin H., Shi L., Yang L. (2020), “The Empirical Research into College Students’ Learning and Development in China (2015–2019): Themes, Methods and Commentary,” Journal of East China Normal University (Education & Science), 38:179-199.

[38] “A Peking University Student’s Self-Description: I Am not An Ignorant Youth Who is Manipulated.”

[39] Nanian Yangguang Canlan (那年陽光燦爛) “Behind the Research Report on Peking University’s Service Workers: Zhang Yunfan, Unwilling to Tolerate the Dark Side of Life” (北大後勤工人調研報告的背後 —— 不願摸黑生活的張雲帆) (January 17, 2018), RedChinaCn (紅色中國網), [Accessed Nov 10, 2023].

[40] “New Year’s Greetings from Marxism Society of Peking University: A Long Journey Ahead, Let’s Not Forget Our Way” (北大馬會新年獻詞:前路漫漫,莫失莫忘) (January 1, 2019), Yingnan er’shang (迎難而上), [Accessed Nov 10, 2023].

[41] “An Interview with Pun Ngai on Jasic Workers: Using ‘Socialism’ to Explore How to Cross ‘Capitalism’” (September 7, 2018), Initium Media, [Accessed Apr 6, 2023].

[42] The concept of depoliticization here draws from Alex’s analysis of depoliticization in the later stages of the Cultural Revolution and Wang Hui’s analysis of the Chinese Communist Party’s depoliticization after the end of the Cultural Revolution. See Alessandro Russo, “The Sixties and Us,” paper presented at the conference “The Idea of Communism,” Seoul, Sept. 29-30, 2013; Wang Hui (2006), “Depoliticized Politics, Multiple Components of Hegemony, and the Eclipse of the Sixties” (translated by Christopher Connery), Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 7 (4): 683-700.

However, I disagree with Wang Hui’s perspective in other articles regarding the continuity of the political tradition of the Chinese Communist Party and the idea of the Party’s re-politicization. See Wang Hui (2020), “The Revolutionary Personality and the Philosophy of Victory: Commemorating Lenin’s 150th Birthday” (革命者人格与胜利的哲学:纪念列宁诞辰150周年), Beijing Cultural Review 6 (the English translation with introductions can be found in Reading the China Dream,; Wang Hui (2011), “The Dialectics of Autonomy and Opening,” Critical Asian Studies, 43 (2): 237-260.

[43] “November 19 | Good News in the Struggle of Jasic Workers’ Support Group!” (11.19 | 佳士工人聲援團鬥爭喜訊!) (November 19, 2018), Jasic Workers Solidarity Group (佳士工人聲援團官網), [Accessed Nov 10, 2023].

[44] “Third Review of Confession Videos: The Awakening of the Masses, the Triumph of the People” (三評認罪影片:群眾的覺醒,人民的勝利) (January 25, 2019), Jasic Workers Solidarity Group (佳士工人聲援團官網), [Accessed Nov 10, 2023].

[45] “Peking University’s Missing Student Jiao Bairong’s Message to Youth Friends: Live Courageously, Fight Courageously!” (北大失聯學子焦柏榕致青年朋友:勇敢地生活,勇敢地戰鬥!) (May 5, 2019), Jasic Workers Solidarity Group (佳士工人聲援團官網), [Accessed Nov 10, 2023].

[46] See “The Children of Workers and Farmers” — A Dedication to Zhang Zhenzhen (《工農的孩子》—— 致展振振) (November 18, 2018), Jasic Workers Solidarity Group (佳士工人聲援團官網), [Accessed Nov 10, 2023]; Compilation of College Students Protesting the Illegal Arrests of Progressive Youth! (高校學子抗議非法抓捕進步青年合集!) (December 17, 2018), Jasic Workers Solidarity Group (佳士工人聲援團官網), [Accessed Nov 10, 2023].

[47] “Left-wing youth Gu Jiayue, arrested on August 24 | The Most Dazzling Red Star.”

[48] “Supporting Jasic Workers, What Crime Is There?!” (聲援佳士工人,何罪之有?!) (November 20, 2018), Jasic Workers Solidarity Group (佳士工人聲援團官網), [Accessed Nov 10, 2023].

[49] “Choosing to Fight for Justice Means Choosing to Move Forward Uncompromisingly—A Confession from Left-wing Youth Yang Shuhan to Comrades” (選擇了為正義而戰,就是選擇了毫不妥協地奮勇向前——左翼青年楊舒涵致同路人的自白書) (September 5, 2018), Jasic Workers Solidarity Group (佳士工人聲援團官網), [Accessed Nov 10, 2023].

[50] “November 19 | Good News in the Struggle of Jasic Workers’ Support Group!.”

[51] “Second Critique of Confession Videos: Where there is oppression, there are Jasic Workers Solidarity Group” (二評認罪影片:哪裡有壓迫,哪裡就有聲援團) (January 24, 2019), Jasic Workers Solidarity Group (佳士工人聲援團官網), [Accessed Nov 10, 2023].

[52] “Guangdong-Style Law Enforcement: Police Station or KMT-Controlled Areas?” (廣式執法:派出所還是國統區?) (November 24th, 2018), Jasic Workers Solidarity Group (佳士工人聲援團官網), [Accessed Apr 6, 2023].

[53] Compared to politically active youths in mainland China who have access to and rely on a convenient database of CCP’s and Marxist knowledge, politically active youths in Hong Kong and Taiwan lack such resources. If they want to break away from their anti-communist knowledge and affective structures and seek revolutionary resources, they must start from scratch. This also makes it easier for them to open a blank slate, and their knowledge has more of a sense of synchronicity and embodiment.

By comparison, left-wing students in Hong Kong and Taiwan who explore ideological resources mostly possess the characteristics of social movements from the 1970s and beyond (especially New social movements after 1980s). Through contemporary characteristics, they emphasize that class liberation is a revolutionary process that is interconnected with the transformation of contemporary capitalist social life and the subject’s body and mind. The heterogeneous body (life) experience is of significant liberating value. If we compare this to another group of left-wing students in mainland China who are primarily characterized as hipsters, they initiate their political enlightenment through non-school and non-official heterogeneous resources. As a result, their imagination of the revolutionary path seems more diverse and looser. It is also easier for them to settle into the left-wing heaviness in the cultural field that is imagined as a revolutionary path through life. As a consequence, they have less steadfastness and loneliness, at the same time more relaxation and flexibility.