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.
1. Rightful resistance; 2. Opportunities and perceptions; 3. Boundary-spanning claims; 4. Tactical escalation; 5. Outcomes; 6. Implications for China.
"O'Brien and Li's fruitful past collaborations culminate in Rightful Resistance in Rural China, the long awaited book that provides conceptual clarity and empirical detail to their earlier work. O'Brien and Li present a convincing and fascinating story about the emergence of contentious politics in post-Mao rural China. Rightful resistance as a form of popular contention is the product of an increasingly savvy and informed rural population interacting with an ambitious authoritarian state that aspires to provide good governance and responsive policy. Rightful resisters, the 'nail-like' heroes of O'Brien and Li's account, are those citizens who skillfully exploit the gap between what the state promises and what is actually delivered."
Mary E. Gallagher, University of Michigan
"To the study of resistance, this superb book, is akin to the discovery of a major 'new species.' 'Rightful resistance' may well be the most significant form of popular protest in quasi-authoritarian systems. This closely-reasoned, broadly comparative and innovative book will inspire many new research programs in its wake."
James C. Scott, Yale University
"The book makes three important accomplishments. First, it synthesizes a wide range of theoretical literatures on protest. It weaves them throughout the text rather than confining them to an introductory literature review. That helps keep scholarly readers who are not specialists on social movements engaged and madly adding to their list of material to read. It also keeps both them and student and non-specialist readers who are trying to follow the narrative well abreast of the theoretical issues and well located within them. Second, it elaborates and contextualizes much more fully than before the concept of rightful resistance, about which the authors have, to be sure, already published article-length work. In doing so, it continues the salutary trend in recent years of taking China out of a narrow Sinological bailiwick and placing it squarely within comparative political science as the Chinese case. Third, it provides rich and fascinating substantive material on contemporary rural protest in China."
Marc Blecher, Oberlin College
"O'Brien and Li have written a very useful book for both specialists and nonspecialists. The book will prove useful to political scientists, lawyers and anyone who is interested in political development in China. As an important contribution to the study of contentious politics and Chinese politics, the book will be referred to for many years to come."
Hualing Fu, Hong Kong Faculty of Law, The Law and Politics Book Review
"Brief yet brilliant...highly recommended."
"In six short but dense chapters, Rightful Resistance in Rural China gives the concept its fullest development and provides a sweeping picture of rural contention in contemporary China. Yet above all, this book marks the authors' systematic and innovative effort to converse with scholars of collective action, and as such, may perhaps best be seen as their gift to sociology. Readers of this journal will delight in it."
Guobin Yang, Mobilization
"This slim volume is a little gem. After spending more than a decade researching rural protest in post-reform China, O'Brien and Li have masterfully synthesized their collaborative work in this elegantly written book. While providing substantive new material from recent surveys and interviews, as well as from research by various Chinese scholars, this book is first of all a theoretical contribution to the literature on social protest. As such, it should attract the attention of scholars both within and beyond the China field... In conclusion, the book defines rightful resistance with utmost clarity and rigour. The size of the volume is deceptive: this is a theoretical book, never overburdened with empirical evidence. But nonetheless there is evidence, succinctly recalled where necessary. The same holds for the innovative theoretical advances. Thoroughly familiar with the literature on popular protest, the authors succinctly mention relevant works, wasting no space on secondary digressions. This closely reasoned, clearly argued book is eminently suitable for teaching adoption in the fields of Chinese studies and political science."
Lucien Bianco, China Quarterly
"This brief but dense book...is remarkable in many respects....[Rightful Resistance] marks a major contribution towards understanding the dynamics at work in the relationship between state and society in China: it highlights the deep contradictions within the regime and the way in which these are exploited by the people....This book can be highly recommended as a major contribution to political science that sheds new light on the relations between state and society in China and raises key questions regarding the evolution and mode of functioning of the regime."
Chloé Froissart, China Perspectives
"The topic of this succinct and readable book is an important one: the growing phenomenon of political mobilization by China's rural population against the abuses and mismanagement of village, township, and country level governments...The book provides valuable insights on this important political development in contemporary China, of which several are especially significant..."
Yan Sun, Journal of Chinese Political Science