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Click through to read our latest in fiction: Hilary Leichter on working as a temp. 
Image courtesy of Critical Todd.

Click through to read our latest in fiction: Hilary Leichter on working as a temp. 

Image courtesy of Critical Todd.

In the London Review of Books of January 28, Perry Anderson described Ching Kwan Lee’s book Against the Law: Labor Protests in China’s Rustbelt and Sunbelt (2007) as an “analytic and ethnographic masterpiece.” In the same month’s New Left Review, Anderson called it a “sociological masterpiece.” Why not simply call it “a masterpiece,” damn it? Because that’s what it is, no qualifications necessary. Lee, a professor of masterpieces—excuse me, of sociology—at UCLA, spent years doing fieldwork among, and some time actually working in, Chinese factories. Her book essentially delivers two comparative reports: one from the old, crumbling state-owned industrial base in northeastern Liaoning (the “rust belt”) and the brave new world of multinationals and migrant workers in southern Guangdong (the “sun belt”). Lee shows how labor protests in the north tend to take up the identities of solidarity and ownership of the means of production fostered (if not exactly instituted) by Maoism, while protests in the south justify their actions in the language of labor law—a new feature of the new China. The analysis is more supple and humane than I can do justice to here, but the crowning achievement of the book lies in its dozens of interviews with workers. Lee’s transcripts make for an incomparably varied, wrenching portrait of the largest and most desperate working-class in the world.