Bernstein and Lü present a powerful argument that the problem of “peasant burdens” cannot be resolved unless rural taxpayers are included as fully-fledged polity members whose interests are represented in both policy making and policy implementation. They do so by addressing two important puzzles. In chapters two to four, the authors examine the paradoxical combination of light central taxation and onerous local extraction that has haunted rural China for centuries. They attribute this problem to two major institutional tensions. One is that Chinese peasants remain essentially subjects without political rights vis-à-vis the state (p. 38); the other is that subordinates in the bureaucracy have no right to disagree and negotiate with their superiors (pp. 41–42, 91–95). The authors show that these long-standing facts of life induce local officials to increase levies and taxes while the central state works hard but often fruitlessly to contain these same burdens (p. 90, pp. 109–114). In the end, all three parties involved in rural taxation lose out. The centre suffers because the public loses confidence in its ability to control local officials (pp. 51–56); local officials see their popular support drain away when they try to meet their “unfunded mandates,” such as compulsory basic education (p. 56, p. 88); peasants, especially the poorer ones, lose most, as they not only lose a substantial portion of their income but are also often bullied or subjected to physical force by enforcers of unlawful extraction (pp. 60–61; 78–80).