Social Protest and Contentious Authoritarianism in China


Social Protest and Contentious Authoritarianism in China

Xi Chen explores the question of why there has been a dramatic rise in and routinization of social protests in China since the early 1990s. Drawing on case studies, in-depth interviews, and a unique data set of about 1,000 government records of collective petitions, this book examines how the political structure in Reform China has encouraged Chinese farmers, workers, pensioners, disabled people, and demobilized soldiers to pursue their interests and claim their rights by staging collective protests. Chen suggests that routinized contentious bargaining between the government and ordinary people has remedied the weaknesses of the Chinese political system and contributed to the regime's resilience. Social Protest and Contentious Authoritarianism in China challenges the conventional wisdom that authoritarian regimes always repress popular collective protest and that popular collective action tends to destabilize authoritarian regimes.


 Reviews:

“Xi Chen’s impressive study represents the best of recent scholarship on China: conceptually innovative, empirically rich, and historically grounded. His state-centered model of ‘contentious authoritarianism’ sheds new light on the surge of social protest in China in recent years and, equally importantly, on why social protest does not necessarily threaten the stability of the current regime.” – Bruce Dickson, George Washington University

“This book highlights why China defies labeling. National leaders shun meaningful democratic reform but seem to believe that ‘facilitating’ and even ‘routinizing’ social protest help maintain stability. Infuriated folks increasingly turn to ‘trouble-making’ against foot-dragging local authorities but generally avoid outright confrontation. Caught in cross-cutting pressures from above and below, local government officials grudgingly accommodate popular claims to ‘lawful rights and interests’ even though they dispute the ‘lawfulness’ of such claims. Complexities like these call for innovative conceptualizations like ‘contentious authoritarianism.’” – Lianjiang Li, Chinese University of Hong Kong

“Xi Chen offers an illuminating analysis of one of the most intriguing features of contemporary Chinese politics: regime stability in the face of rising social protest. Through an original study of collective petitioning, Chen underscores the central role of the Chinese state in channeling and containing rampant popular unrest. The resulting ‘contentious authoritarianism,’ as he characterizes this unusual system, presents a challenge both to social science theories of contentious politics and to conventional assumptions about authoritarian regimes.” – Elizabeth J. Perry, Henry Rosovsky Professor of Government, Harvard University

“Drawing on unusual access to provincial data on collective petitions and deep engagement with the specialized literature on Chinese politics and disciplinary theories about contentious politics, Xi Chen shows how localized collective protests have been woven into the structure of government authority in China. Chen’s effort to unravel this paradox and spell out its implications for both China and political sociology will become a benchmark in our understanding of China’s rapidly evolving society and polity.” – Andrew Walder, Stanford University

'This book provides a brilliant analysis of the surge of collective petitions and social protests since the beginning of the '90s.' The Global Journal

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