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Shifting Boundaries between the State and Society: Village Cadres as New Activists in Collective Petition*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 October 2012

Juan Wang*
McGill University. Email:


Despite the central government's efforts in reducing fiscal burdens on peasants through fiscal reforms in the early 2000s, collective petitions in rural China remain. Complementary to the arbitrary and weak government explanations of state–society conflict, this article reveals the role of village cadres as activists in collective petition. Drawn from extensive fieldwork, I argue that by reducing local government revenues and recentralizing fiscal autonomy to the county level, central fiscal reforms have unintentionally induced a new force of resistance: village cadres. Being disenfranchised from previous privileges, village cadres are now allies rather than adversaries of peasant petitions. This article advances existing literature on China's contentious politics in two ways. First, it recognizes a new group of activists whose savoir-faire improves peasant knowledge of the state capacity in containing state–society conflict. Second, it proposes a dynamic understanding of contentious politics by highlighting the shifting boundaries between the state and society.

Copyright © The China Quarterly 2012 

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I would like to thank three anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments. I am particularly grateful to Liu Mingxing and Tao Ran for joint fieldwork and sharing of manuscripts. Griffith Asia Institute receives my gratitude for its financial support in the process of writing this article.


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