Protest outcomes in rural China are typically an outgrowth of interaction between activists, sympathetic elites, targets, and the public. Popular agitation first alerts concerned officials to poor policy implementation and may prompt them to take corrective steps. As a result of participating in contention, certain activists feel empowered and become more likely to take part in future challenges, whereas others feel disillusioned and lapse into passivity. In the course of observing collective action, some onlookers are sensitized to protesters' concerns and public opinion is affected. Without popular action, better implementation, biographical change, and effects on the public would not emerge, but nor would they without involvement from above. Studying the impact of this protest thus sheds light on two issues that have long troubled students of contentious politics: (a) how to get a grip on indirect, mediated consequences; and (b) how to think about causality when change is a result of popular action as well as openings provided by sympathetic elites.
For helpful comments, we would like to thank Maria Edin, Sidney Tarrow, Stig Thøgersen, Kevin Wallsten, and the anonymous reviewers. Special note should be made of Prof. Yu Jianrong of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, who kindly shared some interview transcripts. Generous financial support was provided by the Asia Foundation, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, the Henry Luce Foundation, the Research and Writing Program of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong, the Institute of East Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and Hong Kong Baptist University.
- Collective action