中国为了阻止COVID-19的传播关闭了工厂，办公室，商店和运输系统在一月下旬2020;其结果是，它的人口是严格限制在自己的家园连续数周。1However (as has been the case in other countries that have implemented a lockdown), not everything came to a standstill. In Wuhan, where the pandemic began, 12 percent of the working population continued to work throughout the lockdown. Nationwide, 10 percent of employees were still working at the end of January during the Chinese New Year; 36 percent returned to work in February and 28 percent in March.2
Examining the conditions under which some people continued to work offers a better understanding of how the Chinese economy will resume and could herald what lies ahead for many other countries. This is all the more crucial in China given that employment is a major issue for the regime, which is legitimized by social stability.
Bringing Invisible Professionals to the Fore
In China, as has been the case elsewhere, the workers mobilized during the pandemic have been those who tend to be almost invisible under normal circumstances. This is particularly true of women in low-level jobs, who were celebrated on March 8, when the人民日报发表了一系列的照片在其微博帐号，伴随着下面的文字：
She is a police officer, keeping the country safe. She is a cleaner who is still going to work. She is a nurse sent to Wuhan on New Year’s Eve. She is the architect responsible for building a hospital. … They are on the front line in the fight against the pandemic; they carry huge responsibilities on their shoulders. Today, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, let’s send them a message of tribute!4
As of March 29, this message had been seen over 30 million times and attracted over 20,000 comments from internet users. The corresponding post was one of the focal points of efforts to boost the visibility and recognition of workers during the COVID-19 era.
Health-care workers—also known as “the angels in white” (白衣天使), a term that was widely used during the SARS crisis of 2003—find themselves on the front line in the fight against the pandemic. Wuhan was well equipped with health-care professionals; however, reinforcements were sent in from all over the country. Nursing staff were asked to work on a voluntary basis; so numerous were the volunteers that some Party members were disappointed not to have been chosen.五
尽管他身体美,媒体did not report on their skills, or on the conditions under which they collaborated with the Wuhan teams. However, as a token of appreciation, when the female health workers started leaving the province (as of March 17), various celebrations were organized in the public sphere—including parades, local police escorts, and the presentation of souvenirs—a great tradition in countries with authoritarian governments.
This rhetoric of sacrifice used to celebrate the female health workers is reminiscent of soldier Lei Feng (雷锋), the selfless hero—fabricated in 1962—who was believed to have spent the entirety of his short life helping others. There is also a clear Maoist reference, with the photos of women published on March 8 accompanied by a hashtag that translates as “they are holding up half the sky in this battle against the pandemic.” This hashtag references the famous Maoist slogan “women can hold up half the sky” (妇女能顶半边天). What differs is that today’s heroic women no longer physically resemble the earlier “iron women” (铁姑娘), who were the model workers of the 1950s. Social norms in the Mao era meant desexualization, whereas today, it is the牺牲女人味是著名的。
Increased Social Control
The committees’ employees were originally often retirees. But as a result of the rise in the number of tasks for which they are responsible, the institution has taken on a more professional dimension over time, especially by recruiting young social workers.
And so, in the context of the COVID-19 health crisis (just as was the case during the SARS outbreak of 2003), residents’ committees have been on the front line in implementing the lockdown, prevention, and control measures. They take the temperatures of those entering and exiting buildings, quarantine suspected cases, inform residents of new measures, disinfect public spaces and corridors, discourage residents from gathering, and shop for those families unable to leave their homes.
And while these committees have full-time salaried staff, they are also reliant on volunteers (志愿者), given the magnitude of the work at hand.10志愿者也被用于信道和在高速公路收费亭寄存器车;提供捐赠的护具，膳食和卫生保健工作者的医院（尤其是继武汉市公共交通关闭）;协助机场海关当局在翻译外国乘客的流行病学资料;提供远程学习课程，以卫生保健工作者的子女;注册疫苗临床试验的志愿者;和帮助农民通过拍摄，然后可在网上发布视频推广售出产品。
Outside the committees, volunteers (in some cases) have even replaced paid workers.11This mobilization of volunteers within companies, described as “temporary workers on production lines” (生产线上的临时工), recalls other episodes during which this happened, such as the Great Leap Forward of 1958, when the emphasis was on “doubling production efforts” to “catch up with Great Britain.”
Dressed in orange overalls and equipped with masks and gloves, cleaners are another category of workers who are being asked to go the extra mile. Based on a systematic grid that is structured by neighborhood, each administrative level (province, municipality, city, district, or village) organizes cleanup teams made up of the usual municipal teams, often reinforced by teams from other districts.
Large numbers of individuals have been called into action to clean. The Chongqing municipality, for example, deployed some 55,000 people as cleaners;12江西省报道额外的80,000人;武汉市政府称已上涨约23,000人，所有参加“大规模清理在第1天”13
Sanitation work has involved sweeping, as well as washing down and disinfecting main and secondary roads, alleyways, dead ends, street furniture, buses, underground platforms, public toilets, and the like. Meanwhile, the number of daily refuse collections has been increased, and special attention is paid to collection points for used masks, as well as to the bins at hotels used for quarantine.
清理行动已与军方言辞回顾等战役战斗，党已转战描述。参与防治这一流行病的战争的代理已经在队操作，例如，城市是由许多的“防线”纵横交错14made up of “workers on the front line against the enemy.”15The entrances and exits of cities are strategic points, which these cleaners cum “soldiers” (战士) have defended in an old-fashioned war, in which “they used brooms as spears and shovels as shields to become anti-epidemic warriors.”16在the framework of this relentless battle, inaccessible places have become a major issue in strategic cleanup plans, where “the enemy must be tirelessly hunted down, wherever it lurks,” to ensure that “the virus has no way out”;17with this in mind, “cleaning is a painstaking task that requires the precision of a goldsmith.” In this race against the virus, emergencies can occur at any time, forcing cleaners to sleep at their workplaces.18
What is specific to China’s response to the pandemic is the regime’s use of the media and the simultaneous coexistence of both political and commercial logics.
And here too, reports and articles have paid tribute to cleaners by drawing on the Maoist rhetoric of self-sacrifice and devotion, combined with the figure of soldier Lei Feng. Those concerned sacrifice their personal lives for the common good, modest citizens becoming civilian heroes (平民英雄) or everyday heroes (平凡英雄), who continue their mission despite the pandemic, giving the city and its inhabitants peace of mind.
These people find themselves on the front line in the fight against the virus, working while the rest of the city sleeps, watching over its inhabitants and keeping them safe from danger. Cleaners are hard workers who get up very early (as early as 4:30 a.m.) and do not take any days off.19天有些工作10个小时。他们有责任的真正意义。他们潜心身体和灵魂社会，处理危险自己给别人安心。当有口罩短缺，他们不走，让护理人员可以使用哪些资源可用。20And while they may fear for their own health, they continue to perform their duties, even going so far as to hide from their families the nature of their work and the danger of contamination they face.21Their position on the social ladder in no way diminishes their devotion or sense of responsibility; quite the contrary, in fact, because even though this is not the case for all of them, “being a member of the Party begins with the smallest of gestures.”
Platform Workers “Serving the People”
The health crisis has accelerated the expansion of urban services involving platform workers, a sector that was already growing rapidly. Delivery has proven to be a vital activity during the lockdown.
But unlike health-care workers, residents’ committee employees, and cleaners, who are employed directly or indirectly by the state, platform workers are governed entirely by commercial logic.22随着危机的结果，成千上万的失业者的10S已成为送货司机，从小型企业主谁不得不关闭其店铺谁下岗和那些谁以前一个偶然的基础上工作的员工。这些农民工在不稳定的工作是在中国的城市发展真正的工作母机。新闻是指这些工人中的两个他们的牺牲，用那种政治逻辑的，我们已经遇到和他们提供的，代表服务的资本主义经济的经济逻辑的效率意识方面。23
On March 6, during a visit to a logistics center in Beijing, Li Keqiang paid tribute to the role that these workers have played, addressing the delivery drivers present as follows:
This epidemic has meant that many industries have been shut down, but you don’t get any rest. You are straight out on the streets every day, meeting the needs of thousands of households and businesses. Your deliveries are not only necessary for the people, but they are also truly heart-warming. You are out there facing the epidemic, and you are our everyday heroes.24
The mass distribution sector has also been recruiting en masse, with Hema, Suning, Carrefour, and Walmart all offering temporary contracts to help deal with the increase in their remote business. Distribution giants have also, at times, negotiated the loaning of staff, known in Chinese as “talent sharing” (人才共享) or “staff sharing” (共享员工),25a practice that was relatively uncommon until now, with other companies in the catering and hospitality sectors that have been forced to halt work.
健康危机也提高了企业的不同类型的服务公司，它提供祭祖纪念在死亡的情况下去世，给这个家庭将无法行驶（代祭服务）。这些服务在2000年代后期被开发并针对居住在国外的移民，但需求未能达到预期。26During the recent Ancestors’ Day on April 4, the Ministry of Civil Affairs and its provincial branches strongly encouraged the use of such services,27and demand consequently grew significantly. Over 15,000 collective celebrations honoring various deceased individuals and some 419,000 individual celebrations were held in different provinces.28
The issue of the intensification of work affects everyone. While replacement-ancestral-worship staff have been depicted in the many photos published, little is said of the overtime they work or the psychological suffering they endure. In Canton, for example, one such worker will bow before graves over 500 times in a single day;29in Ha’erbin, two employees working as a pair will wipe headstones and perform the rites at 10 to 20 gravesides a day;三十在其他地方，负责与死者作品的亲属沟通，直到晚上11点的一个员工甚至已经收到凌晨2时有时通话。31Delivery and cleaning staff, of course, also face long working days.
During the crisis, active workers have also been exposed to psychological risks, and lockdown measures implemented by residents’ committees have not always been well received. Avideohas been released illustrating the sort of resistance encountered, with residents in various cities expressing their distrust, frustration, and even anger. In Taiyuan, for example, one mandrove his carinto the temporary outdoor office of the residents’ committee, while a man in Dalian has been沉积狗粪there at night. Many weeks after lockdown measures were introduced, those working for residents’ committees are exhausted and in psychological danger.32刘Xuqing resi甚至做噩梦dents shouting at her. The significance of the matter led to the central government publishing a “new work plan for psychological counseling” in mid-March.33
The situation that has developed among Chinese workers in the COVID-19 era and the way they have been portrayed in the press reveals certain facts and strategies that are not unique to the People’s Republic. What is specific to China, however, is the regime’s use of the media and the simultaneous coexistence of both political and commercial logics. This is especially significant because the political logics recall certain other moments in China’s history since 1949 when the Communist Party has used mass mobilization to boost economic development, fight its political enemies, improve hygiene, and fight other epidemics.
什么是危机在商店就业在中国的未来呢？经济的数字化无疑加速，向中国互联网巨头的利益，而危机也暴露出了一些无形的因素，其结果是一些行业应该看到他们的状态有所改善。一些人还呼吁为保健更多的公共资金。2020年三月中旬，在国家人力资源和社会保障部，与统计和其他主管部门的国家统计局联合公布的专业守则的修订版。送货司机现在包括16个新职业中，36which will have certain consequences in terms of the development of skills standards and vocational training. The development of staff-loaning schemes between companies has also been highlighted as one possible way to stabilize the labor market, though it is unclear whether such loans would depend on the agreement of the employees concerned.
中国is facing immense challenges in terms of employment. And the crisis has only served to highlight that the country’s political logics, which seek to control society, coexist with market logics, which seek to serve the powerful interests specific to Chinese capitalism.
Translated from the French by Tiam Goudarzi, with the support of the CESSMA, Université de Paris.
- This text was produced as part of a research seminar on labor issues in China facilitated by Gilles Guiheux and held at Université de Paris.↩
- The estimated 200 million employees working from home were excluded from the survey. Seehttps://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/mckinsey-digital/our-insights/a-blueprint-for-remote-working-lessons-from-china。↩
- In Fujian province, meanwhile, a nurse described the difficulties she encountered, crying, “I am a member of the Party, let me play my part!” Many nursing staff who were not yet members applied for membership before leaving for Hubei, using the phrase “join the Party in the firing line” (火线入党).广西省因此派出962护理人员湖北，其中包括884名党员，474人是新成员，这意味着共产党也采取了健康危机的优势，以提高其会员资格。http://www.xinhuanet.com/politics/2020-04/27/c_1125913583.htm。↩
- As was the case during the Beijing Olympics (2008), the World Expo in Shanghai (2010), and the G20 Summit in Hangzhou (2016), the authorities have relied heavily on volunteers and volunteer-staff to help fight the pandemic. A platform (known as “Beijing volunteers，” 志愿北京) has been used to gather data relating to activity in the capital. As of April 1, 5,428 projects had been set up involving over 92,200 volunteers, who had put in an average of 62 hours per person since January 27. Among the volunteers registered on the platform, 24 percent are members of the Communist Party (four times more than among the population as a whole) and 16 percent are members of the Communist Youth League. Over half are over 45 years of age, and 57 percent are women. Although young people are less strongly represented than their elders, it is the under-30s who are the most celebrated by the press, as if to counter the stereotype of a generation of overly spoiled only children. The majority of volunteer activities are therefore undertaken on a neighborhood level, in collaboration with residents’ committee employees.↩
- 在thevillage of Fuxi，in the coastal province of Zhejiang, the efforts of volunteers called in by the Hangzhou Communist Youth League allowed market gardeners to sell over 6,000 kg of fruit in the space of just three hours on March 5, the day on which the nation commemorates Lei Feng. Volunteers in urban areas were called upon to work in factories, with some in Shanghai producing masks and gowns for nursing staff. In the松江区同时，在20名志愿者一晚上队由外国企业高管，公司董事，并设法产生短短12小时内30万个口罩的学生，而young people in Pudong加入了生产防护服护理人员的公司。↩
- 七十五万人，绝大多数的男人他们，被认为是运输和交付平台的工作，和recent report(April 2020) claimed that Eleme’s 3 million delivery drivers, affectionately known as “little courier brothers” (快递小哥), were generally young (47 percent under the age of 30) and from rural backgrounds (80 percent). Over half of them (56 percent) were working at least one other job or studying at the same time—26 percent of them micro-entrepreneurs, 21 percent skilled workers, 11 percent taxi drivers, and 20 percent students. Julie Yujie Chen, “幻影和在中国的平台参与经济政治，”Javnost：大众，杂志欧洲研究所通讯和文化的卷。27，没有。2（2020）。↩
- 在the southeast of the country, in the capital of Yunnan, meanwhile, “the weather in Kunming is getting warmer, it’s mild and sunny and it’s not hard to get out on the road.”一个交付工作人员解释说他“让客户enjo感到骄傲y hot meals and ensure that they lead a normal life. … A lot of people think that the takeaway industry is very taxing and that you can’t stick to this job for too long, but I think it’s a very good job. I am very proud to be able to serve others” (为别人服务). This expression, which represents the Party’s core mission, is among the most famous in Communist China, calligraphed by Mao Zedong himself and reproduced time and again in the public sphere.↩
- Ye Ruolin, “Abused and Stressed, China’s Community Workers Seek Help，”Sixth Tone，2020年3月10日。↩