Spring 2014

State & Social Protest

Ching Kwan Lee

This essay sketches an array of cultural, political, and bureaucratic mechanisms that mediate the Chinese Communist state's relationship with the major types of social protests, in the process exploring how governance and contention have transformed each other in the past six decades. In particular, it spotlights a noteworthy development in recent years: the increasingly salient market nexus between state and protest. While the regime response of making economic concessions to protesters is hardly unique in the context of China's own past, the transition from top-down mandated concession to pervasive bargaining between the state and protesters is a significant break with past patterns. The negotiability of cash and material rewards insinuates a market logic of governance that is made all the more poignant by the singularly formidable fiscal and infrastructural capacities of the current Chinese regime among its authoritarian counterparts worldwide.

CHING KWAN LEE is Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her research focuses on labor, gender, political sociology, comparative and global ethnography, and global China. She has published articles in the American Journal of Sociology, American Sociological Review, Theory and Society, Work & Occupations, Gender & Society, The China Quarterly, and Modern China. She is author of Against the Law: Labor Protests in China's Rustbelt and Sunbelt (2007) and Gender and the South China Miracle: Two Worlds of Factory Women (1998).

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