AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 509

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Session 509: Confronting the State and Reshaping State-Society Relations Through Collective Action: Popular Protests, Civic Groups, and Activism in China and Taiwan

Organizer: Chih-jou Jay Chen, Academia Sinica, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

Discussants: Yongshun Cai, Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, Hong Kong; Zhiming Sheng, Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, Hong Kong

This panel examines how collective action and civic groups have been confronting the state and reshaping state-society relations in China and Taiwan over the past decade. Chen’s paper investigates the targets of popular protests in China between 2000 and 2010. It finds that protesters’ claims, tactics, socioeconomic background, and regional economic development have had significant impacts on whether they protested against central/provincial governments or local grassroots governments. Fan’s paper analyzes the emerging women’s NGOs in Beijing and Yunnan, showing how local movements negotiate women’s interests with international agendas, and how they strive to find their organizational space within and outside the state. Wang’s paper studies collective actions and self-help organizations in China’s AIDS villages. It highlights the crucial role played by village elites who used sophisticated social skills to grasp opportunities, integrate resources, and organize collective actions in local communities. Besides the weak and disadvantaged left behind by China’s economic boom, Cai’s study focuses on China’s better-off, examining the professionalization of homeowners’ activism in Beijing, and showing that the motivations of activists who are willing to become leaders may change over the course of collective action. Under the authoritarian rule of the Chinese government that limits association, enterprising activists need to find different ways to inspire and organize collective actions. On the other hand, in Taiwan’s transition to democracy, Lin’s study offers a comparative perspective that shows civic groups promoted and influenced the working of citizen conferences, which have had significant impacts on governmental decision-making in Taiwan.

Targets Matter: Dynamic Popular Protests and Changing State-Society Relations in China
Chih-jou Jay Chen, Academia Sinica, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

This paper seeks to illustrate China’s changing state-society relations by exploring the targets of popular protests between 2000 and 2010. It constructed a database by collecting and coding more than 2,000 news events on China’s mass protests in the press. An analysis of these reported incidents finds that: 1) since the mid-2000s the number and scale of protests by occupational groups and “rights protection” groups have been rapidly rising; 2) in urban areas the most common protest claim focused on income-related issues; 3) in rural areas the most common protest issues were linked to land seizures; 4) in urban areas, after the mid-2000s, prefecture/city-level government jumped ahead to become the most prevalent protest target; and 5) in rural areas, most protests have been targeting grassroots governments, with relatively fewer protests targeting central/provincial government (compared to protests in urban areas). A preliminary examination finds that the protests targeting the central/provincial government were more likely launched by white-collar occupational groups and rights-protection groups, and based in economically developed and high-wage regions. On the other hand, it also finds that protests targeting the prefecture/city government were more likely based in poor cities or cities with larger wage-productivity gaps (productivity growth outpacing wage growth), and protests claiming government misconduct were more likely to target local prefecture/city government. These findings provide empirical evidence of China’s changing state-society relations, which may bring about some kind of regime change in the near future.

Negotiating Women’s Interests and Organizational Space: Women’s NGOs and Collective Action in Beijing and Yunnan
Yun Fan, National Taiwan University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

This study is aimed to analyze the emerging women’s non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and its impact on women’s interests in China. When China hosted the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women and its concurrent NGO Forum in 1995, the concept of NGOs entered and then a new wave of NGO unexpectedly followed. By specifically examining emerging women’s NGO in Beijing and Yunnan, this paper intends to explore the following questions: Where do those activists come from? How do their biographical backgrounds affect their participation? How do they define “women’s interests” in the new historical context? When do these most foreign-funded NGO adopt or reject international agenda? Then how this encounter shapes the trajectory of women’s NGO in China? Do these NGO strive to sustain organizational autonomy under the authoritarian regime? Drawing on in-depth interviews with activists based in two contrasting local contexts, this study shall examine how the local movements negotiate women’s interests with international agendas, how they strive to find its organizational space within and outside the state, and the interaction between the two.

Collective Action and Self-Help Organizations in China’s AIDS Villages
Chan-Hsi Wang, Academia Sinica, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

This paper compares how villages reacted to widespread AIDS outbreak in central rural China, highlighting the crucial role played by rural elites and grassroots organizations. Since 2004, in addition to sufficient aid from international actors, Chinese government has tried to better handle rural AIDS problem by offering comprehensive and costly welfare policies. However, as to rural community's responses, while some villages have kept silence under the pressures of social stigma and local government, some others have taken violent collective actions in seeking for the resources from outsiders and asking local government to fulfill promises made by the central government. Why are they so different? Based on my fieldwork in Henan, three villages and one county were selected to illustrate and compare possible factors. These four cases are similar in the degree of disaster (HIV/AIDS) and located in close areas. Nevertheless, they varied in gaining resources and protecting their rights. This paper argues that the resources from external actors, transformation of political opportunity structure, and the structure of mobilization in local society were all important factors in organizing social forces. However, the key factor lies in rural elites who used sophisticated social skills to grasp various opportunities, integrate different resources, and organize collective action in villages. This paper describes such characters as the concept of "organizational entrepreneur", and explains how it affected the politics of China’s AIDS villages.

The Professionalization of Homeowners’ Activism in Beijing
Yongshun Cai, Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, Hong Kong

It has been commonly accepted that leaders play a crucial role in collective action. Existing literature has pointed to a number of factors that contribute to the emergence of leaders. Such factors include, among others, personality, altruism, moral responsibility, community pressure, and self interests. But current research tends to see activists’ motivations to become leaders as static or unchanged. Based on intensive fieldwork in residential communities in Beijing, this paper shows that the motivations of activists who are willing to become leaders may change over the course of collective action. While such changes do not undermine their willingness to sustain their leadership, they do have important impact on their behavior, thereby affecting the collective interests of the community.

State, Civic Groups, and Deliberative Democracy: Collective Action and Citizen Participation in Taiwan
Kuo-ming Lin, National Taiwan University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

Citizen conference is an innovative model of citizen participation embodies the idea of deliberative democracy. During the conference a group of about 20 citizens is chosen to examine a controversial issue and formulates policy recommendations through rational, informed discussion. Beginning in 2002, state-sponsored citizen conferences flourished in Taiwan. In some cases, the policy recommendations of the conferences produced significant policy impacts. This paper analyzes the developmental characteristics of such innovation practice of citizen participation in Taiwan by exploring the state-society relations. It is argued that the development and policy impacts of citizen conferences was resulted from particular political contexts of civic activism and state manipulation. One the one hand, amid the popular discontents with the adversarial politics in representative democracy, some civic groups, especially those with the newly gained access to policy-making under the rule of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), urged the state to organize citizen conferences to improve the quality of democracy; on the other hand, the government, in face of increasing pressures of collective actions from civic groups, strategically used the citizen conferences to search for an alternative base of legitimacy. State manipulation unintendedly amplified the role of citizen conferences in policy-making, but caused animosity from some civic groups. The confrontational characters shaped by the experience of collective actions in the authoritarian past made some leaders of civic groups distrustful of government, and thus wary of state-sponsored citizen conferences. The ambivalent attitudes of civic groups destabilized the state’s continuing support for the deliberative practice of citizen participation.