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Rightful Resistance in Rural China (Cambridge Studies in Contentious Politics) Paperback – February 13, 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0521678520 ISBN-10: 0521678528 Edition: 1st
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Editorial Reviews


"O'Brien and Li's fruitful past collaborations culminate in Rightful Resistance in Rural China, the long awaited book that provides conceptual clarity and empirical detail to their earlier work. O'Brien and Li present a convincing and fascinating story about the emergence of contentious politics in post-Mao rural China. Rightful resistance as a form of popular contention is the product of an increasingly savvy and informed rural population interacting with an ambitious authoritarian state that aspires to provide good governance and responsive policy. Rightful resisters, the 'nail-like' heroes of O'Brien and Li's account, are those citizens who skillfully exploit the gap between what the state promises and what is actually delivered."
Mary E. Gallagher, University of Michigan

"To the study of resistance, this superb book, is akin to the discovery of a major 'new species.' 'Rightful resistance' may well be the most significant form of popular protest in quasi-authoritarian systems. This closely-reasoned, broadly comparative and innovative book will inspire many new research programs in its wake."
James C. Scott, Yale University

"The book makes three important accomplishments. First, it synthesizes a wide range of theoretical literatures on protest. It weaves them throughout the text rather than confining them to an introductory literature review. That helps keep scholarly readers who are not specialists on social movements engaged and madly adding to their list of material to read. It also keeps both them and student and non-specialist readers who are trying to follow the narrative well abreast of the theoretical issues and well located within them. Second, it elaborates and contextualizes much more fully than before the concept of “rightful resistance,” about which the authors have, to be sure, already published article-length work. In doing so, it continues the salutary trend in recent years of taking China out of a narrow Sinological bailiwick and placing it squarely within comparative political science as the Chinese case. Third, it provides rich and fascinating substantive material on contemporary rural protest in China."
Marc Blecher, Oberlin College

"O'Brien and Li have written a very useful book for both specialists and nonspecialists. The book will prove useful to political scientists, lawyers and anyone who is interested in political development in China. As an important contribution to the study of contentious politics and Chinese politics, the book will be referred to for many years to come."
Hualing Fu, Hong Kong Faculty of Law, The Law and Politics Book Review

"Brief yet brilliant...highly recommended."

"In six short but dense chapters, Rightful Resistance in Rural China gives the concept its fullest development and provides a sweeping picture of rural contention in contemporary China. Yet above all, this book marks the authors' systematic and innovative effort to converse with scholars of collective action, and as such, may perhaps best be seen as their gift to sociology. Readers of this journal will delight in it."
Guobin Yang, Mobilization

"This slim volume is a little gem. After spending more than a decade researching rural protest in post-reform China, O'Brien and Li have masterfully synthesized their collaborative work in this elegantly written book. While providing substantive new material from recent surveys and interviews, as well as from research by various Chinese scholars, this book is first of all a theoretical contribution to the literature on social protest. As such, it should attract the attention of scholars both within and beyond the China field... In conclusion, the book defines rightful resistance with utmost clarity and rigour. The size of the volume is deceptive: this is a theoretical book, never overburdened with empirical evidence. But nonetheless there is evidence, succinctly recalled where necessary. The same holds for the innovative theoretical advances. Thoroughly familiar with the literature on popular protest, the authors succinctly mention relevant works, wasting no space on secondary digressions. This closely reasoned, clearly argued book is eminently suitable for teaching adoption in the fields of Chinese studies and political science."
Lucien Bianco, China Quarterly

"This brief but dense book...is remarkable in many respects....[Rightful Resistance] marks a major contribution towards understanding the dynamics at work in the relationship between state and society in China: it highlights the deep contradictions within the regime and the way in which these are exploited by the people....This book can be highly recommended as a major contribution to political science that sheds new light on the relations between state and society in China and raises key questions regarding the evolution and mode of functioning of the regime."
Chloé Froissart, China Perspectives

"The topic of this succinct and readable book is an important one: the growing phenomenon of political mobilization by China's rural population against the abuses and mismanagement of village, township, and country level governments...The book provides valuable insights on this important political development in contemporary China, of which several are especially significant..."
Yan Sun, Journal of Chinese Political Science

Book Description

Introduces the concept of rightful resistance and explains how it operates in rural China. Focusing on ways in which the powerless 'work' a political system, this book highlights how evidence from China and social movement theory can speak to each other.

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Product Details

  • Series: Cambridge Studies in Contentious Politics
  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (February 13, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521678528
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521678520
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,136,189 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Kevin O'Brien received his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1987. Professor O'Brien's research focuses on Chinese politics in the reform era. His most recent work centers on theories of popular contention, particularly the origins, dynamics and outcomes of "rightful resistance" in rural China. He is the author of Reform Without Liberalization: China's National People's Congress and the Politics of Institutional Change (Cambridge, 1990, paperback, 2008) and the co-author of Rightful Resistance in Rural China (Cambridge, 2006). His articles range across a number of topics, including legislative politics, local elections, fieldwork strategies, popular protest, policy implementation, and village-level political reform. One of his articles, "Popular Contention and Its Impact in Rural China," Comparative Political Studies (April 2005), was a co-winner of the Sage Award for Best Paper in Comparative Politics delivered at the 2004 American Political Science Association Meeting. He is the co-editor of Engaging the Law in China: State, Society and Possibilities for Justice (Stanford, 2005, paperback 2010) and the editor of Popular Protest in China (Harvard, 2008). In late 2010, his co-edited volume, Grassroots Elections in China, was published by Routledge.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By suburban dissident on April 26, 2011
Format: Paperback
Borrowing from James C. Scott theories on "everyday resistance" and acknowledging the importance of political opportunities and political process for social movements and protest, Kevin O'Brien and Lianjiang Li describe a form of protest and political contention that they dub "rightful resistance." Based on their interview and field work in rural China, O'Brien and Li explain this creative form of resistance developing in China whereby people attempt to contest the state but do so from within the confines that that same state has delineated. Through such tactics as leveraging higher levels of authority to pressure more local ones, employing the language of citizenry and the rights such status ought ostensibly entail, adopting the policies and rhetoric of the central government in order to hold the local accountable, or even taking advantage of little used legal mechanisms, rural Chinese have often unsettled the political ground enough to successfully bring about their claims - but they do so as faithful members of the state.

O'Brien and Li's insightful work is must reading for those interested in the politics of contemporary China as well as for those interested in processes of political change and rights work.
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An excellent insight into the intricacies and informal rules governing China's political institutions and how ordinary citizens can become political actors in modern China, particularly at the local level.
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6 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Shaun King.com on March 7, 2007
Format: Paperback
This short book lays out, conceptually, what kind of contentious politics "Rightful Resistance" is and where in the literature its place should be.

Rightful Resistance is somewhere between James Scott's "everyday forms of resistance," on the one hand, and the sustained nature implied in Charles Tilly's notion that social movements are "campaigns." "Unlike rebels in the name of the tsar, rightful resisters stop short of violence...[but] they have learned how to exploit the potent symbolic and material capital made available by modern states. Rightful resistance is thus a product of state building and of opportunities created by the spread of participatory ideologies and patters of rule rooted in notions of equality, rights, and rule of law" (pg. 4). China's agricultural reforms in the late twentieth-century (e.g. Organic Law of Villagers' Committees 1987) have created opportunities for the peasants that did not permeate down to the peasants for those in James Scott's study of Sedaka in "Weapons of the Weak." Instead, in China, "contractual ways of thinking and a growing fluency in rights talk appear to underlie much of rightful resistance present in rural China" (pg. 6). Rights-talk is part of the repertoire that rightful resisters use against the local cadre who cause the problems of practical application of party ideals. Part of why Rightful Resistance is not a social movement is because it lacks sustainability insofar as the goals of these peasant resisters remain only to change some local and practical discrepancy between party promises and cadre implementations. "Rightful resisters know that they exist at the sufferance of higher levels and that the `rights' they act on are conditional.
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