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From Political Enchantment to Legal Logic—A Discursive Analysis of Contentious Labor Politics in Central China



The rise of 'rights talk' in Chinese contentious politics attracts numerous attentions and debates. Does it indicate the rise of citizens' 'rights consciousness' and the retreat of the state, or the continuation of the mass's 'rules consciousness' and the state's control? Based on a discursive analysis to a wide variety of texts during a ten-year struggle for pension rights, I argue that the discourses used by the protesting workers depended on concrete contexts and power relations, and the institutional design from the state promoted the workers' rational justification to their interest requests. The strategic employment of 'rights talk' by the workers, on one side, displayed the state's symbolic domination, which successfully prevented the radicalization of protests; on the other side, it suggested that only through the realization of 'rule of law' could the state's management of social contentions turn from short term containment to long range institutional absorbing.