China Since Tiananmen: A New Rights Consciousness?

Issue Date July 2009
Volume 20
Issue 3
Page Numbers 17-24
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Despite the suppression of the Tiananmen Uprising of 1989, popular protest in China has by all accounts escalated steadily over the ensuing two decades. These protests have spread to virtually every sector of Chinese society, prompting more than a few observers to proclaim the emergence of a “rising rights consciousness” that poses a protodemocratic challenge to the authority and durability of the Communist state. This essay proposes instead that what we are seeing in China today reflects a much older rules consciousness, in which savvy protesters frame their grievances in officially-approved terms in order to negotiate a better bargain with the authoritarian state.