China Since Tiananmen: Rural Protest

Issue Date July 2009
Volume 20
Issue 3
Page Numbers 25-28
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Although China’s farmers did not play a large role in the 1989 protests, they have been quite contentious since. Rural unrest has been triggered in part by reforms and in part by savvy “peasant leaders” who quickly seize opportunities that appear. Recently, many protest leaders have concluded that tame forms of contention are ineffective and that violence and other attention-grabbing tactics are needed. But is rural China about to explode? Not likely. The organization of contention remains low, claims tend to be circumscribed, and incidents are usually small-scale and local. Protest can deflect extraction and send unpopular cadres packing, but there is little evidence that it poses a threat to the regime. That Beijing tolerates so much unrest may even be an indicator of its confidence. Should it begin to treat farmers’ grievances like those of Tibetans or Falun Gong supporters, then we will know that the leadership is shaken and the regime is weakening.

About the Author

Kevin J. O’Brien is professor of political science, Alann P. Bedford Professor of Asian Studies, and director of the Institute of East Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. His books include Rightful Resistance in Rural China (with Lianjiang Li, 2006).

View all work by Kevin J. O’Brien