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Digital Labour In Chinese Internet Industries

Bingqing Xia

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Digital labour has been the subject of considerable research in recent years (Van Dijck 2009, Manzerolle 2010, Dyer-Witheford 2010). But relatively little research has considered professional workers in digital media. This research addresses this gap by focusing on professional workers in the Chinese Internet industries. This paper asks: How are these digital labourers involved in the digital media production? To what extent should we criticise this involvement? Based on detailed empirical research in China, I argue that the rapid growth of the Internet industries depends on exploiting these Internet workers, such as the workers in Chinese Internet industries—the new ‘sweatshop’ of the digital era. Chinese Internet workers have been subsumed in the global capitalist system as the new ‘sweatshop workers’. This paper shows that Chinese Internet workers suffer very poor working conditions, and argues that these working conditions are the result of exploitation, a concept explored via using Eric Olin Wright’s schema. This paper also argues that most of the Chinese Internet workers are in the lower middle-class class position, in which they are exploited by the upper classes. Their working conditions have seriously deteriorated and they are victims of inequality and injustice—although they also are able to exercise agency and resistance. This paper therefore calls urgent attention to the working conditions of these digital labourers.