How can the poor and weak 'work' a political system to their advantage? Drawing mainly on interviews and surveys in rural China, Kevin O'Brien and Lianjiang Li show that popular action often hinges on locating and exploiting divisions within the state. Otherwise powerless people use the rhetoric and commitments of the central government to try to fight misconduct by local officials, open up clogged channels of participation, and push back the frontiers of the permissible. This 'rightful resistance' has far-reaching implications for our understanding of contentious politics. As O'Brien and Li explore the origins, dynamics, and consequences of rightful resistance, they highlight similarities between collective action in places as varied as China, the former East Germany, and the United States, while suggesting how Chinese experiences speak to issues such as opportunities to protest, claims radicalization, tactical innovation, and the outcomes of contention.
Kevin J. O'Brien is Bedford Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley. His research focuses on popular protest and Chinese politics in the reform era. He is the author of Reform without Liberalization: China's National People's Congress and the Politics of Institutional Change, and the co-editor of Engaging the Law in China: State, Society, and Possibilities for Justice. Currently, he is serving as the Chair of the Center of Chinese Studies at UC-Berkeley. Lianjiang Li is an Associate Professor in the Department of Government and International Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University. His research focuses on village elections and collective action in rural China. He has published in Asian Survey, China Information, China Journal, China Quarterly, Comparative Politics, Comparative Political Studies, the Journal of Contemporary China, and Modern China.
1. Rightful resistance; 2. Opportunities and perceptions; 3. Boundary-spanning claims; 4. Tactical escalation; 5. Outcomes; 6. Implications for China.