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Imagining a Different Future—Anarchist Equality and the Form of Labour in the Journal of Natural Justice

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In the late Qing, China entered the capitalist world-system and this brought about a structural change in society. In this context, late Qing intellectuals felt a double imperative: they had to combat imperialist invasion and economic plunder and therefore they had to establish a nation-state, which presupposed capitalist development. However, on the other hand, they saw the various problems associated with capitalism, and as they were developing their narratives of identity, they needed to find conceptual resources to counter Eurocentric narratives of history. Consequently, these intellectuals harbored a desire to overcome capitalism. This desire produced various post-capitalist utopias, which we can see in Kang Youwei, Tan Sitong and Zhang Taiyan. These utopias are especially meaningful today, in an age where capitalist domination is heightened, but hope for a post-capitalist future has greatly diminished. “Equality” is a keyword with which late Qing intellectuals mapped out the future. Moreover, “equality” expresses precisely the above doubled movement: on the one hand, it constitutes the condition for the nation state, but on the other hand, it is also a concept that late Qing intellectuals used to imagine a different future. Discussions of equality directly dealt with issues of labour, women, and so on. This essay takes as its focus the Journal of Natural Justice, which was organized by the Society for the Restoration of Women’s rights organized by He Zhen, Liu Shipei and others. This journal published for less than one year, but it was one of the main journals promoting socialism and anarchism. It was also the first to directly discuss “labour,” and it proposed an ideal of equality in which “everyone has work and everyone labours.” Throughout the rest of China’s twentieth century, leftist and Marxist intellectuals continued this emphasis on labour. But capitalism presupposes that everyone is equal as a free-labourer. In this case, what is the relationship between the utopia proposed by the Journal of Natural Justice, which entails a world in which all people have work, and capitalism? This essay examines this question in hopes of shedding light on the larger trajectory of Chinese history.


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