The Politics of Labour Rights Protection and Resistance in China


With this animation, designers Elias Freiberger and Ryan Tung  and researcher Regina Martinez-Enjuto, International Development aim to raise awareness about the working conditions and labour rights of workers in China.


The Research

Regina saysMy research is about the use and effect of laws regulating work and labour relations in China. I examine how Chinese workers’ rights are defined by law; what actors are involved in protecting workers’ rights; and how and why these rights are understood and actually respected. When violated, how do workers react? This is a study of the relationship between the law, labour struggle, and workers’ actions and resistance.

The story is about power, consent, contention, and resistance. In an authoritarian context such as China, where capitalism is mixed with the reminisces of state socialism, workers and citizens have to creatively navigate the available channels to confront power and protect their rights. Labour laws provide the platform for contention and resistance politics to happen, because on the one hand, laws are an instrument of  state power state to allow capital accumulation and economic growth by control of workers. On the other hand, the laws also empower workers to resist, supported by NGOs, lawyers and activists. However, if Chinese workers only abide to the rights defined by law and the “legitimate” forms of action, much would not be attained and structural exploitation would persist. Autonomous collective action is necessary for workers’ self-emancipation and a significant improvement of labour standards. In fact, as much as we see an increase of workers’ legal action in China, an outstanding rise of “illegal” action (strikes, protests, demonstrations) is happening.

I wanted to visualise the core idea of my research to provoke academic and non-academic audiences and raise awareness about Chinese workers’ situation and resistance’.


Design by Elias Freiberger, MA Graphic Moving Image &  Ryan Tung, MA Graphic Design

Elias says ‘To structure the story we created a flowchart. We then came up with a rough storyboard to see how we can fit the data into a moving image piece. We asked Regina to shorten the story and after a few revisions, we finalised the story and came up with a new storyboard. We then recorded the voice over and started designing the style frames. Unfortunately,  due to time restrictions, we did not have the time to finish the animation’.

Watch the short film Elias made on the design process.