CDT Bookshelf: Mary E. Gallagher recommends “Rightful Resistance in Rural China”

For the CDT Bookshelf, China Digital Times invites experts on China to recommend a book to CDT readers. This month, Mary E. Gallagher, an assistant professor in the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Michigan, recommends “Rightful Resistance in Rural China” by Kevin O’Brien and Lianjiang Li, Cambridge University Press, 2006. Gallagher writes:

Kevin O’Brien and Lianjiang Li have been on to something important for the last ten years or so. This book is the successful culmination of many years of research and writing on contentious politics in rural China. They show the contours of political mobilization in the Chinese context today – as the “fragmented authoritarian” political structure hits head on the rising demands of a more knowledgeable and mobile society. Rightful resistance is less about taking the system on than it is about working the system to one’s advantage and finding allies and sympathizers in the state. As a form of popular contention, it is the product of an increasingly savvy and informed rural population interacting with an ambitious state that aspires to provide good governance and responsive policy.

As such, rightful resistance is not exclusively Chinese. O’Brien and Li incorporate comparative examples in the introduction, but the book as a whole will have an impact on the study of authoritarian regimes generally. It engages the larger literature on how social actors operate in inhospitable environments, showing that their repertoires include not only James Scott’s “weapons of the weak” but also many other strategies that openly engage the strong and powerful.

This book informs our understanding of what kind of contention we are likely to see as the Chinese Communist Party muddles through the transition, now nearly thirty years on, from state socialism. O’Brien and Li do a great service to the study of Chinese politics by supplying conceptual frames for the study of popular contention. Each chapter covers a different stage of contention: the opening of opportunities, claim-making, escalation, and outcomes. Their findings and interpretations provide the field with a wealth of possible research topics. Graduate students for years to come will go marching into the field armed with the insights and analysis of these authors.

See also:

– An excerpt from “Rightful Resistance in Rural China,” via Cambridge University Press (link).

– A post about the book from the China Law Prof blog (link).

– A review of “Rightful Resistance in Rural China,” in the Asian Wall Street Journal (link, by subscription only).

– More about in China (link).


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