The Puzzle of Cross-Provincial Activism in China: From Relational Dynamics to State Strategies


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


Despite the government’s enormous efforts to forestall widespread protests, China still witnessed many cross-provincial protests in the post-1989 era. How did Chinese citizens find the opportunity to stage cross-provincial protests in a political environment highly hostile to coordination beyond the community level? By tackling this puzzle, this study illuminates the Chinese state’s sophisticatedly differentiated strategies for coping with collective protests. Rather than attribute state leaders’ threat perceptions to static dimensions of protest movements, we posit that dynamic dimensions such as the pathway of scale shift often play a more important role. We propose a typology of pathways through which local protests spread across provincial borders—top-down, outside-in, and bottom-up—and elucidate how the interaction between the pathways and the nature of solidarity shaped government perception and strategy. Besides addressing an important puzzle in China and enhancing our understanding of the political environment in high-capacity authoritarian regimes, this study also underscores how an investigation of dynamic dimensions can provide new insights into the government’s calculations and strategies for managing popular protests.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)597-615
Number of pages19
JournalComparative Politics
Issue number4
Early online date16 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023


  • China
  • authoritarian regimes
  • popular protests
  • relational dynamics
  • threat perceptions


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