Bureaucrat-assisted contention in China

Kevin J. O’BRIEN*, Lianjiang LI, Mingxing LIU

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Bureaucrat-assisted contention in China is a type of collective action in which native-born local officials help socioeconomic elites launch or sustain popular action against outsider party secretaries by leaking information and sabotaging repression. Bureaucrats who assist local influentials are neither elite allies nor institutional activists. Instead, they unleash or support collective action as a weapon in a power struggle against ambitious, heavy-handed or corrupt superiors. Unlike mass demonstrations that are mobilized as a bargaining chip, bureaucrat-assisted contention hinges on a partnership with local elites who have their own grievances and pursue their own goals. Because it combines bureaucratic politics and popular action, this type of contention can help us understand underexplored aspects of political opportunities, framing, and mobilizing structures. In particular, it shows how participants in contention sometimes span the state-society divide, and how collective action can influence (and be influenced by) power struggles within a government.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)661-674
Number of pages14
Issue numberS1
Early online date28 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to acknowledge Jiali Li for research assistance and the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong (CUHK14613815) and Berkeley’s Center for Chinese Studies for their support.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 San Diego State University. All rights reserved.


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