S E L E C T E D    P U B L I C A T I O N S




Seeing Red: The People’s Cultural Revolution and China’s Crisis of Representation (manuscript in preparation for submission 2017).

To Govern China: Evolving Practices of Power. Edited by Vivienne Shue and Patricia M. Thornton. Forthcoming (Cambridge University Press, 2017). 
How, practically speaking, is the Chinese polity – as immense and fissured as it has now become – being governed?   Some analysts highlight signs of ‘progress’ in the direction of a more liberal, open, and responsive government, whereas others dwell instead on the many remaining ‘obstacles’ to a transition to democracy. Both approaches, in our view, rely upon starkly drawn distinctions between democratic and non-democratic regime types, and concentrate too narrowly on institutions as opposed to practices.  We find that the current focus on adaptive and resilient authoritarianism-- a neo-institutionalist concept—fails to capture and accommodate the mixed-effects multi-directionality observable within processes of political change in contemporary China. In its place, we offer a more open-ended and fluid heuristic that privileges nimbleness, mutability, and an openness to institutional invention and procedural change, both proactive and reactive, in our study of repertoires and practices of governing in China today
The Cultural Revolution: 50 Years On. Edited by Patricia M. Thornton, Sun Peidong and Chris Berry. Forthcoming (Cambridge University Press, 2016).
China's convulsive Cultural Revolution was conceived in 1966 as a "great revolution to touch the people to their very souls." How are we to assess its impact fifty years on? In this volume, leading social and political scientists, historians and anthropologists examine the long-lasting consequences of the political, social, economic and cultural upheaval unleashed by Mao Zedong. Contributions from authors working within and outside the PRC consider the impact of this tumultuous mass movement from perspectives as diverse as market-based economic reform, clothing and fashion, the grassroots movements of the late 1960s across the globe, and the so-called "lost generation" of sent-down youth. We find that collective and personal memories of the Cultural Revolution, and its enduring institutional and social legacies continue to exert a profound effect on China and the Chinese people today.

Disciplining the State: Virtue, Violence and State-making in Modern China. Harvard University, 2007 (Available from Harvard University Press)
(Pre-publication version of Introduction, please cite published version)

What are states, and how are they made? Scholars of European history assert that war makes states, just as states make war. This study finds that in China, the challenges of governing produced a trajectory of state-building in which the processes of moral regulation and social control were at least as central to state-making as the exercise of coercive power.

State-making is, in China as elsewhere, a profoundly normative and normalizing process. This study maps the complex processes of state-making, moral regulation, and social control during three critical reform periods: the Yongzheng reign (1723-1735), the Guomindang’s Nanjing decade (1927-1937), and the Communist Party’s Socialist Education Campaign (1962-1966). During each period, central authorities introduced--not without resistance--institutional change designed to extend the reach of central control over local political life. The successes and failures of state-building in each case rested largely upon the ability of each regime to construct itself as an autonomous moral agent both separate from and embedded in an imagined political community. Thornton offers a historical reading of the state-making process as a contest between central and local regimes of bureaucratic and discursive practice.

Identity Matters: How Ethnic and Sectarian Allegiances both Prevent and Promote Collective Violence.  Edited by James L. Peacock, Patricia M. Thornton, and Patrick B. Inman. Berghahn Press, 2007 (Available from Berghahn)
(Pre-publication version of Introduction, please cite published version)
Pre-publication version of Chapter 10, "Manufacturing Sectarian Divides," please cite published version).

In response to the attacks of September 11, 2001 and war in Afghanistan, the Fulbright New Century Scholars program brought together social scientists from around the world to study sectarian, ethnic, and cultural conflict within and across national borders. As one result of their year of intense discussion, this book examines the roots of collective violence — and the measures taken to avoid it — in Burma (Myanmar), China, Germany, Pakistan, Senegal, Singapore, Thailand, Tibet, Ukraine, Southeast Asia, and Western Europe.

Case studies and theoretical essays introduce the basic principles necessary to identify and explain the symbols and practices each unique human group holds sacred or inalienable. The authors apply the methods of political science, social psychology, anthropology, journalism, and educational research. They build on the insights of Gordon Allport, Charles Taylor, and Max Weber to describe and analyze the patterns of behavior that social groups worldwide use to maintain their identities.

Written to inform the general reader and communicate across disciplinary boundaries, this important and timely volume demonstrates ways of understanding, predicting and coping with ethnic and sectarian violence.


“The Cultural Revolution as a Crisis of Representation,” The China Quarterly. Special Issue on Memories and Legacies of the Cultural Revolution: 50 Years On (Forthcoming, October, 2016). To be published simultaneously as an edited volume by Cambridge University Press.

Abstract: The May 16 Notification, which set the agenda for the Cultural Revolution, named the movement’s key targets as those “representatives of the bourgeoisie who have sneaked into the Party, the government, the army, and all spheres of culture.” The ensuing uprising of students and workers, many of whom claimed to be the loyal “representatives” of revolutionary and radical forces at the grassroots of society, exposed the fulminating crisis of political representation under CCP rule. This article considers the Cultural Revolution as a manifestation of a continuing crisis of representation within revolutionary socialism that remains unresolved to the present day, as demonstrated by the tepid popular response to Jiang Zemin’s “three represents” and widespread contemporary concerns about the Party’s “representativeness” (daibiaoxing 代表性) in the wake of market reform. Although the Cultural Revolution enabled both public debate of and political experimentation with new forms of representative politics, the movement failed to resolve the crisis. The Party’s lingering disquiet regarding issues of representation thus remains one legacy of the Cultural Revolution.

《五一六通知》为十年文化大革命重要的纲领性文件之一,并以混进党里、政府里、军队里和各种文化界的资产阶级代表人物,视为文化大革命清洗、斗争的主要目标。此时许多学生与工人认为他们是代表底层的革命者与先进力量,进而开始抗,就此揭露共产党代表性的概念存在,及深刻的矛盾。社会主义的代表性,我认为此概念从文化大革命到现在一直有着同样的矛盾,而此矛盾到目前为止还是悬而未至,例如江泽民三个代表概念并没有受到人民热烈的爱戴,并从改革开放时代到现在,人民对共产党的  '代表性'一直保持著怀疑。虽然文化大革命对代表性的概念促进了公共辩论,体现了代表性的新方式,但未能解决代表性本身的矛盾。因此,文化大革命遗产之一就是共产党对代表性问题一性的沉默以对.

“Introduction: Red Shadows: 50 Years after the Cultural Revolution.” With Chris Berry and Sun Peidong. The China Quarterly. Special Issue on Memories and Legacies of the Cultural Revolution: 50 Years On (Forthcoming, October, 2016). To be published simultaneously as an edited volume by Cambridge University Press.

Abstract: To engage with the Cultural Revolution is fraught with difficulty. The Xi Jinping regime’s statements on the socialist past have been taken by some as signs of a softening in the regime’s position on the Mao era, but not one that enables or encourages scholarly enquiry on the topic. Xi’s March 2013 directive (commonly referred to as Document Number 9) has even further hampered reflection on the import and meaning of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. We find that the sustained official effort to produce, maintain and police a certain type of cultural amnesia can itself be claimed as one of the chief legacies of the Cultural Revolution, even as individual and collective memories of the late Mao era persistently break out of the confinement imposed upon them by the officially constructed “master narrative” laid out in the 1981 Resolution.


“The Mutable, the Mythical, and the Managerial: Raven Narratives and the Anthropocene.” With Thomas F. Thornton. Environment and Society: Advances in Research  (6:1, 2015), pp. 66-86.

Abstract: The Anthropocene is rooted in the proposition that human activity has disrupted earth systems to the extent that it has caused us to enter a new geological age. We identify three popular discourses of what the Anthropocene means for humanity’s future: the Moral Jeremiad admonishes the transgression of planetary boundaries and advocates reductions to live sustainably within Earth’s limits; the Technofix Earth Engineer approach depicts the Age of Humanity as an engineering opportunity to be met with innovative technological solutions to off set negative impacts; and the New Genesis discourse advocates re-enchantment of humanity’s connections to earth. By contrast, we find that in many indigenous and premodern narratives and myths disseminated across the North Pacific and East Asia, it is the trickster-demiurge Raven that is most closely linked to environmental change and adaptation. Whereas Raven tales among northern Pacific indigenous communities emphasize a moral ecology of interdependence, creative adaptation, and resilience through practical knowledge (mētis), robustly centralizing Zhou Dynasty elites transposed early Chinese Raven trickster myths with tales lauding the human subjugation of nature. Raven and his fate across the northern Pacific reminds us that narratives of environmental crisis, as opposed to narratives of environmental change, legitimate attempts to invest power and authority in the hands of elites, and justify their commandeering of technological fixes in the name of salvation.

The Advance of the Party: Transformation or Takeover at the Urban Grassroots?,” The China Quarterly 213 (March, 2013), pp. 1-18.

Abstract: While existing scholarship focuses attention on the impact of state control and repression on Chinese civil society, the increasingly independent role of the Communist Party has been largely overlooked. This article reviews the Party’s recent drive to “comprehensively cover” (quan fugai, 全覆盖) grassroots society over the previous decade against the theoretical debate unfolding among Chinese scholars and Party theoreticians regarding the Party’s role with respect to civil society. Focusing on greater Shanghai, frequently cited as a national model of Party-building, I describe the Party’s advance and the emergence of Party-organized non-governmental organizations (PONGOs), a new hybrid form of social organization sponsored and supported by local Party committees. I argue that these developments invite a reconsideration of our understanding of the ongoing “associational revolution,” and of the Party’s relationship to China’s flourishing “third realm.”

The New Life of the Party: Party-Building and Social Engineering in Greater Shanghai,” The China Journal 68 (July, 2012), pp. 58-78.

Abstract: While the 2004 introduction of a Party-organized trade union in Wal-Mart's mainland China-based stores was widely reported, far less is known about official Party branches and committees in the non-state-owned sector. Well over 3.5 million Party members now work in “non-publicly owned enterprises”, a sector of the economy in which the Party has continued to expand. The Party is experimenting with new organizational arrangements and remaking its social agenda in order to increase its popularity, relevance and appeal, particularly among young urban professionals. This article outlines recent Party-building initiatives in the private sector over the last decade. Drawing upon membership and other data from over 1,000 local Party committees in non-publicly owned enterprises in greater Shanghai, I analyze contemporary “Party life” in “two new” branches—new social and new economic organizations since the adoption of market reform—as a reflection of the Party's possible future as it absorbs the “advanced forces” of an increasingly market-oriented China.

Mapping Dynamic Events: popular contention in China over space and time,” Annals of GIS 18:1 (February, 2012), pp. 31-43.

Abstract: Students of popular contention have long observed that social unrest mimics the forces of nature, likening it to a ‘prairie fire’ or observing a ‘snowball effect’ of strikes and work stoppages. Yet little is known or understood either about how unrest spreads across space over time or regional susceptibility to unrest. To test whether such metaphorical references may have empirical grounding, this project links historical data on two documented waves of social unrest during the Republican (1911–1949) and Reform (1978 to present) eras in Chinese history to static geographic information system maps, using ArcGIS Tracking Analyst. Building upon the hierarchical regional space model and G.W. Skinner's work on macroregions in China, I test three hypotheses regarding the concentration and spread of contentious events within two macroregions during two 3-year waves of unrest in modern Chinese history. The use of animated data layers to capture and record dynamic events over time and space can help to determine whether patterns of unrest clustering and diffusion remain stable over time and to test whether spatial knots of ‘ungovernability’ – long a feature of Chinese bureaucratic lore – persist in the People's Republic, despite changes in regime type, economic fluctuations, and the passage of time.

From Liberating Production To Unleashing Consumption: Mapping Landscapes Of Power In Beijing,” Political Geography 29:6 (August 2010), pp. 302-310. 

Abstract: This article offers an analysis of two locales in downtown Beijing nominally set aside for public use, Tiananmen Square and The Place, as successively linked landscapes of power that define the shifting and relations between market and place negotiated by the Chinese Communist Party-state over time.  However, whereas Zukin (1993) argues that such landscapes lack coherent values because of their subordination to capitalism’s haphazard process of “creative destruction,” a salient feature of Beijing’s shifting landscapes of power is the authoritarian Party-state’s persistent mediation of market relations, and its subordination of the contradictions between market and place to the changing needs of the regime under market reform. Despite their apparent differences in intent and design, the shopping mall has eclipsed the public square as a key urban site through which the Party-state seeks to build a selfconscious and cohesive socioeconomic class of subjects over which and for which it seeks to rule.

Crisis and Governance: SARS and the Resilience of the Chinese Body Politic,” The China Journal 61 (January 2008), pp. 23-48. 

Abstract: How crisis-prone is the reform-era Chinese state? Recent scholarly contributions yield no shortage of dire predictions, ranging from the regime’s imminent collapse, to the steady deterioration of the state’s extractive capacities due to persistent bureaucratic corruption and inefficiency. Others offer a more positive view, suggesting that crisis has tended to serve as “the midwife of reform,” working to improve governance and a more efficient state structure. However, a closer examination of the role of crisis during the reform era suggests provocative continuities with the mobilizational dynamics of the Maoist era. I argue that the reform-era state is neither suffering from a hidden crisis of governance nor is it curiously adept at responding to critical challenges by redesigning its core institutions: rather, crisis itself emerged as a mode of governance in its own right during the postrevolutionary era, as an effective strategy for improving short-term governance outcomes under the constraints imposed a comparatively weak and fragmented political and bureaucratic institutions.

Framing Dissent in Contemporary China: Irony, Ambiguity and Metonymy,” The China Quarterly 171 (September 2002), pp. 661-681. 


Abstract: Without denying the significance of rising social protest during the recent period of reform, this article considers two disparate social phenomena --the public posting of subversive “doorway couplets” (menlian 门联), and the body cultivation practices of Falungong (法轮功)—as adaptive strategies for the expression of dissent in contemporary China. While neither is generally recognized as a form of collective action generally addressed by social movement theorists, I argue that both deploy strategies of "framing"—the deliberate interjection of critical and dissenting views into the public sphere-- that rely upon a measure of indirection for their success. The appearance of such phenomena, particularly against the general backdrop of rising social unrest in the PRC, demonstrates the rising popularity of not only mixed repertoires of protest and dissent, but particularly those in which ironic, ambiguous and metonymic frames play a potentially important, albeit previously little understood, role.

Insinuation, Insult and Invective: The Thresholds of Power and Protest in Modern China,” Comparative Studies in History and Society 44: 3 (July, 2002), pp. 597-619. 

Abstract: The presentation of crude, derisive or mocking poetic couplets emerged as a distinct mode of contention in modern Chinese history, one which continues to be deployed throughout the countryside to articulate social and political dissent. Like the libelous ballads made popular in Jacobean England and the pernicious gossip of the medieval peasantry, the potency of this form of protest rests in the power of public censure to impose a collective moral standard within a community. Derisive doorway couplets have often been used during periods of popular contention either to intimidate authorities or to insure group solidarity between participants engaged in collective acts against the state. By tracing the trajectory of this particular practice from custom to contention, I aim to demonstrate the rich variety of forms that belong wholly neither to the realm of compliance nor to protest. Instead, I suggest that the very threshold of dissent can be read as a site of political struggle in which inchoate interests and embryonic identities may be tested and tempered prior to more overt forms of collective action. 

Beneath the Banyan Tree: Bottom-up Views of Local Taxation and the State during the Republican and Reform Eras,” Twentieth Century China 15:1 (November 1999), pp. 1-42. 

Abstract: Local tax practices during the Republican period and the post-Mao reform era have shaped popular views of the Chinese state in particular ways. The greater degree of rural immiseration and political decentralization during the Nanjing Decade notwithstanding, portrayals of the central state in popular and unofficial sources tended to be far more positive and optimistic than those which predominate in the post-Mao period, and considerably more benign than scholars have previously suggested.    Furthermore, the distinction between the predatory agents of the local state and superordinate authorities in the national government was far clearer for the Republican era precursors of today’s “rightful resisters” than for disgruntled taxpayers in the reform period.  Placed in a broader historical perspective, contemporary “policy-based resisters” and tax protestors appear more cynical and less optimistic than their Nanjing Decade counterparts about the potential of the central state to effectively intervene to resolve their fiscal woes.  I conclude that the greater degree of cynicism toward central authority which prevails in the Chinese countryside today is largely due to the deliberate withdrawal of the central state from its redistributive role in managing certain spheres of the rural economy while continuing to exert its authority in an extractive manner in others.




“Introduction: Beyond Implicit Dichotomies and Linear Models of Political Change in China.” With Vivienne Shue. In Vivienne Shue and Patricia M. Thornton, eds., To Govern China: Evolving Practices of Power (Forthcoming, Cambridge University Press, 2017).

Abstract: How, practically speaking, is the Chinese polity – as immense and as formidably fissured as it has now become – being governed?   Some analysts have chosen to highlight the signs they find of ‘progress’ in the direction of a more liberal, open, and popularly responsive future for the Chinese polity.  Others have dwelt instead on system reform failures and the many remaining ‘obstacles’ to achieving a genuine transition to democracy.  Both approaches tend to be conceptualized and debated against overly starkly drawn distinctions between democratic and non-democratic regime types, and concentrate too narrowly on governing institutions as opposed to governing practices.  We find that the current focus on adaptive and resilient authoritarianism-- shaped in large part by the neo-institutionalist turn in political science-- is both misleading and unhelpful in capturing and accommodating the mixed-effects multi-directionality observable within processes of political change in contemporary China. In its place, we offer a more open-ended and fluid heuristic that privileges nimbleness, mutability, and an openness to institutional invention and procedural change, both proactive and reactive, in our study of repertoires and practices of governing in China today.

 “A New Urban Underclass? Making and managing “vulnerable groups” in contemporary China.” In Vivienne Shue and Patricia M. Thornton, eds., To Govern China: Evolving Practices of Power (Forthcoming, Cambridge University Press, 2017).
Abstract: This chapter examines the role of grassroots Party branches in managing members of China’s increasingly mobile labour force, and particularly those living precariously in Chinese cities. The Party has long sought to mediate class relations chiefly through the creation of coalitions and manipulation of social cleavages in order to bolster its own political hegemony, frequently relying upon practices drawn from its own revolutionary past, particularly its tradition of “mass work.”  In the era of market reform, the Party’s governing strategies among the urban poor include targeted surveillance, frequent and routine structured encounters with local authorities and agents of the Party-state, and coercive strategies of control. Working through or alongside new resident’s committees or public security management teams, grassroots Party branches seek to control, curtail, and contain the visibility of so-called “vulnerable groups” within urban society, of which migrant and itinerant workers form a key part. The net effect of these efforts has been the securitisation of social governance policies targeting the urban poor, and is indicative of the emergence of an increasingly bifurcated model of urban governance that promises more latitude and freedom to those who enjoy moderate levels of prosperity while tightly controlling who have fallen behind, increasing the gap between power and privilege that exists today. 

“Non-traditional Security in China.” In Lowell Dittmer and Yu Maochun, eds., Routledge Handbook of Chinese Security (Routledge Press, 2015). 

Abstract: Although the concept of “non-traditional” security remains somewhat outside the mainstream in Western security studies, it enjoys considerable popularity in China, as evidenced by the announcement, in November 2013, that China plans to establish a “National Security Committee” (Guojia anquan weiyuanhui 国家安全委员会) in order to coordinate national security efforts across a full spectrum of both traditional and non-traditional security issues. As Dali Yang (2003, 2004) recently observed, significant governance reforms in post-Deng China have been driven largely by the response of the leadership to a series of crises.  However, the dynamics of crisis have a particularly utility to political leaders as well, providing windows of opportunity for Party leaders to redefine issues, strike at political opponents, and further particularistic agendas.  A key driver behind the relatively more enthusiastic adoption of the concept of non-traditional security in China is likely the utility of a broader conception of security in supporting the Party-state’s interest in suppressing domestic political rivals, preventing social opposition, and controlling potentially restive segments of the domestic population. 
“Experimenting with Party-led ‘People’s Society’: Four Regional Models.” In Reza Hasmath and Jennifer Hsu, eds., NGO Governance and Management in China (Routledge Press, 2015). 
Abstract: Shortly after the Eighteenth Party Congress in 2012, which renewed the call to "increase the strength of Party-building in social organizations," Civil Affairs Department officials announced that 40,300 and 39,500 Party branches had been successfully established in China’s social organizations and private non-enterprises, respectively.  Some embrace the Party's increasing penetration of China's so-called "third sector" as part of an emerging model of "big Party, small state, great society” (da zhengdang, xiao zhengfu, da shehui 大政党、小政府、大社会), or even as a collectivist Chinese "people's society" (renmin shehui 人民社会) superior to traditional Western civil society, which centers on the rights and interests of private individuals. One distinguishing feature of this model is the prominence of the Party in “comprehensively covering” new social forces by actively managing the development civil society groups; in some cases, Party committees are establishing and registering new social organizations that I refer to as PONGOs (Party-organised non-governmental organizations), which take on Party-directed activities like recruitment and political education alongside their core tasks. This chapter reviews four distinct regional experiments in PONGO-building from Beijing, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Liaoning in the context of the evolving scholarly and theoretical debate among Chinese scholars and Party theoreticians regarding the Party’s proper role with respect to social organizations.
“Looking East: China’s Jasmine Revolution in Comparative and Historical Perspective.” In Frank Gaenssmantel, ed., Imagining Democracy after the Arab Spring (Ashgate Press, forthcoming, 2014). 
Abstract: As the surprising events of 2011 in the MENA region demonstrate, the rise of new communication technologies has made possible the emergence of politically activated publics outside the context of nation-states. This chapter uses China’s would-be “Jasmine Revolution” of 2012—a series of collective protests directly inspired by the 2011 “Arab Spring”—to consider the possibilities, limitations and contradictions inherent in the still emerging concept of the global public sphere, particularly for authoritarian regimes. However, as the Chinese case reminds us, activated and engaged global public spheres can and do coexist with the contemporary “political economy of authoritarian resilience,” a shadowy nexus of political and economic power that is emerging as a result of the liberalization of formerly state-centered economies. One lesson to be drawn from the so-called “jasmine revolutions” of 2011-12 is that the global public sphere is powerfully shaped by earlier historical legacies in the MENA region as well as in China, where new communications technologies give voice to widening grassroots dissent over the withdrawal of social welfare benefits and rising inequality.

“Retrofitting the Steel Frame: From Mobilizing the Masses to Surveying the Public,” In Elizabeth J. Perry and Sebastian Heilmann, eds., Mao's Invisible Hand: The Political Foundations of Adaptive Governance, (Harvard University Press, 2011), Chapter 8, pp. 237-268 (Available from Harvard University Press). 

Abstract: The contemporary Chinese media is replete with references to large-scale public opinion denoting strong majority support within Chinese society for a stunning array of elite proposals.  Yet this apparent perpetuation of high levels of approval of the regime and its shifting policies can also be read as a contemporary artefact of the Maoist legacy of “constructing public opinion” (造舆论) through the elite-engineered constitution of particular publics.  A handful of critics have rightly charged that the new practice of surveying Chinese public opinion gives undue weight to the preferences of the upwardly mobile urban middle classes at the expense of underprivileged and underrepresented rural populations. Perhaps equally as important is the range of broader sociological effects that arise from the technocratic quantification of public opinion, and the public(s) this process constructs. The product of a largely non-transparent process of calculation and aggregation, public opinion survey practices in reform-era China reconfigure mass subjects as atomized individuals with discrete preferences that can be measured and numerically expressed. In contrast to earlier, Mao-era models of mobilizing popular opinion by creating collective economic interests and raising class consciousness, modern survey methods instead recast the process of public opinion formation as a highly constrained type of depoliticized choice-making on the part of individualized respondents who select responses from a limited list of pre-screened options. The numeric aggregation of individual choices as a composite of “majority will” serves to marginalize more radical or divergent views, and normalize moderate positions. Alongside the widespread dismantling of the formal collective institutions within which Mao-era political and economic interests were conjoined and nurtured at the grassroots, the new market-friendly practices of “making” public opinion remains a chief resource for legitimating the Party’s rule and demonstrating popular support for its policies in a technologically advanced but depoliticized media environment. 

“What is to Be Undone: The Making of the Middle Class in China.” In Karin M. Ekström and Kay Glans eds., Beyond the Consumption Bubble  (Routledge, 2010), Chapter 17, pp. 236-250.(Available from Routledge). 


Abstract: Deng Xiaoping’s introduction of market reforms in 1978–1979 represents a watershed moment in the history of the modern Chinese state and society. The vast economic transformation that ensued, described by some as a consumer revolution (Davis 2000; Chao and Myers 1998), has lifted an estimated 635 million people out of poverty, altered social structures and practices after decades of egalitarian redistributive policies and introduced new patterns of household spending for the first time in China since 1949. Yet whereas the rise of the middle class in the historiography of the West depicts a largely gradual process of class formation outside of—and increasingly in opposition to—the authority of feudal absolutist states, what is perhaps most remarkable about the Chinese transformation has been the extent to which is has been not only supported, but even deliberately engineered from above as part of the state-building process.


“The New Cybersects: Popular Religion, Repression, and Resistance.” In Elizabeth J. Perry and Mark Selden, eds., Chinese Society: Change, Conflict and Resistance (Third edition) (Routledge, 2010), Chapter 9, pp. 215-238. Updated version of earlier chapter (Available from Routledge). Chinese version, 藍夢林,新型網絡教派:民間宗教,壓制及抗爭 in 裴宜理、塞爾登 編, 中國社會:變革、衝突與抗爭 (香港中文大學出版社, 2014)(Available from The Chinese University Press).

 Abstract: The general relaxation of political and social controls during the reform period, combined with rising economic disparities and the pressures of a rapidly commercializing society, led to a resurgence of religious traditions and spiritual practices.  As in earlier periods, the broadly syncretic sects of today draw inspiration from diverse historical sources, yet at the same time bear the distinct hallmarks of Mao-era socialist legacies.  Many such groups offer appealing antidotes to the political dislocation caused by the abandonment of Maoist precepts during the period of reform.  Weaving together salvationist teachings, esoteric practices and high-tech organizational strategies, some groups have spawned new transnational methods of recruitment, transmission and organization that have proved stubbornly resistant to the efforts to eliminate and contain them.  This chapter draws on the cases of two well-known Chinese qigong sects to illustrate this new form of politico-religious mobilization, which I refer to as cyber-sectarianism, and explores how this new genre of political contention has developed and spread across the broader spectrum of groups targeted for political repression during the reform era.

“Censorship and Surveillance in Chinese Cyberspace: Beyond the Great Firewall.” In Peter Hays Gries and Stanley Rosen, eds., Chinese Politics: State, Society, and the Market. (London and New York:  Routledge, 2009), Chapter 8, pp. 179-198. (Available from Routledge).

Abstract: The concept of China’s “Great Firewall” has taken on a life of its own among scholars, journalists and pundits.  Often connected to the “Golden Shield” program of web surveillance, the “Great Firewall” conjures images of an ill-fated xenophobic regime struggling to erect and maintain technologically advanced barriers of censorship to limit access to information by its perpetually restive subject population. Without denying that censorship and surveillance of the Chinese internet does occur, this chapter seeks to map some of the rich and varied terrain of the online public sphere in Chinese cyberspace to demonstrate that, censorship notwithstanding, mainland Chinese netizens indeed make extensive use of the internet to reflect upon, debate, and contest political matters.  

“Manufacturing Dissent in Transnational China:  Boomerang, Backfire or Spectacle?” In Kevin J. O’Brien, ed., Popular Protest in China (Harvard University Press, 2008), Chapter 9, pp. 179-204 (Available from Harvard University Press).

Abstract: The most successful Chinese “cybersects” of the 1990s evolved into far-flung multinational conglomerates incorporating media enterprises, public relations firms and commercial operations beneath a loose umbrella of shifting entrepreneurial, political and spiritual interests. Courting the support of foreign governments, international non-governmental organizations [NGOs], transnational advocacy networks [TANs] and the international media, they continued to apply significant external pressure to the Chinese government, hoping to generate what Keck and Sikkink (1998) dub “boomerangs” of transnational support for their agendas. However, such activities can and do backfire, weakening the credibility of the movement activists, NGOs, TANs that may champion their respective causes.  In this chapter, propose that behind these two potential outcomes—“boomerang” and “backfire”—lay a third outcome that shapes contemporary transnational activism. By engineering protest spectacles and staging high-profile events that are effectively framed, promoted and spun by their own media outlets, these banned cybersects go beyond the “marketing of rebellion”  to international NGOs and supporters, and are, in some instances, virtually “manufacturing dissent”—mobilizing not only their loyal members, but also their privately owned media companies to pursue their aims and delegitimize their chief opponents with the aim of producing broad popular support—or the appearance of it—for their respective agendas, relying heavily on the medium of cyberspace to achieve this end. 

“Introduction: Identity Matters.” In James L. Peacock, Patricia M. Thornton, and Patrick B. Inman, eds. Identity Matters: How Ethnic and Sectarian Conflict (Berghahn Press, 2007), pp. 1-13. (Available from Berghahn).

 Abstract: In February 2003, a multidisciplinary group of thirty-one scholars gathered under the auspices of the Fulbright Foundation’s New Century Scholars Program to consider the continuing problem of sectarian, ethnic, and cultural conflict around the world. We proceeded from a shared agreement that the two main approaches commonly found in the literature on conflict and identity are wanting. Primordialists posit that cultural conflicts have a peculiarly intensive, affective, or emotional nature because they touch on a particular type of identity, and that the continuing violent “clash of civilizations” is inevitable, while “instrumentalist” or “economic opportunity” theorists argue that it is interest, rather than identity, that drives collective disputes.  While coming to rather different conclusions about the relationships between sectarian, ethnic, and cultural conflict, we whole-heartedly agreed with Charles Tilly’s (2002) observation that in understanding collective conflict, it was essential “that we get identity right.”

“Manufacturing Sectarian Divides: The Chinese State, Identities and Collective Violence.” In James L. Peacock, Patricia M. Thornton, and Patrick B. Inman, eds. Identity Matters: How Ethnic and Sectarian Conflict  (Berghahn Press, 2007), Chapter 9, pp. 171-189. (Available from Berghahn).

Abstract: The treatment of Falun Gong and other qigong practitioners by Chinese officials raises several key questions about the nature of sectarian identity, social conflict, and the post-Mao Chinese state. The consensus view in the scholarly literature is that modern states seek to broaden popular support and therefore the legitimacy of those in power by engaging in a variety of nation-building activities, which are inclusive by design. Subnational ethnic, sectarian, and cultural acts of violence are frequently cast as antimodern, antistate, and anticivic expressions of aberrant and primordialist rage.  In this chapter, instead of assuming the interest of state elites is in building social unity and consensus, I argue that the roots of ethnic and sectarian conflict lie in the foundation of physical violence that is part of the modern state-making process, which cordons off and claims specific strata of subject populations as legitimate targets for coercion and control. When stripped of the pretense of civic inclusiveness, many nation-states are at best little more than loosely organized machines of social violence that frequently resort to rituals of classification, coercion, and compulsion to better control their subject populations. Yet as Falun Gong’s successful transition from spiritual group to outlawed cybersect shows, the information technologies that allow contemporary state officials to classify, surveil, and control their citizens can also be used by those same citizens to resist the incursions of the state. One key to the continued survival of groups accused of antistate agendas today may well be new information technologies, such as the Internet, cellular phones, and instant text messaging systems, which afford such groups some ability to evade the traditional controls and coercive measures of the state.

Comrades and Collectives in Arms: Tax Resistance, Evasion and Avoidance Strategies in the Post-Mao Era.” In Peter Hays Gries and Stanley Rosen, eds., State and Society in 21st Century China: Crisis, Contention and Legitimation (London and New York:  Routledge, 2004), Chapter 4, pp. 87-104. (Available from Routledge).

Abstract: The renewed focus on tax and fee collection as a means of enhancing local and municipal government revenues during the reform era has resulted in rising waves of social protest, as well as other forms of collective action aimed at subverting tax collection efforts.  While many such incidents of the past two decades bear a strong resemblance to tax protests and riots of the late imperial and Republican periods, this paper highlights the unique features of organizational and discursive repertoires of collective action deployed against tax collectors during the reform period.  I argue that contemporary tax resisters and tax evaders, particularly those who have not benefited as rapidly from market reforms, often develop collective strategies that rely upon organizational and ideological resources developed during the Mao years. Drawing on cases of both urban and rural tax protest and evasion, this chapter explores Mao-era influences on the organizational and discursive repertoires of tax resistance, including the emergence of the danwei (work unit) as an institutional locus for the articulation of collective interests again tax collectors; the involvement of rural cadres in defending the interests of rural tax payers against the incursions of higher levels of government; and how rural collectives and former communes are now mobilizing to protest the current “peasant burden problem.”



“ ‘Civil Society’ or ‘People’s Society’: Where’s the Party?,” China Development Brief, August 2013. Available at ; Chinese version, “公民社会”还是“人民社会”:上海社会组织党建工作研究" here.

Abstract: The Eighteenth Party Congress underscored the waxing importance of social organizations in China, ending with a renewed call to "increase the strength of Party-building in social organizations."  By the end of 2012, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had established well over 4.2 million grassroots Party branches and committees, including those in over 40,300 social organizations and more than 39,500 private non-enterprise units. The Party's new advance into China's so-called "third sector" has been celebrated by some as the realisation of a uniquely Chinese "theory of limited government" involving a new model– "big Party, small state, great society".  Tsinghua's Hu An'gang recently proposed that the building of a Chinese "people's society" beneath the aegis of the rule of Chinese Communist Party is a model superior to that of traditional Western conceptions of civil society centering on the rights and interests of private individuals. Others, however, warn of potential dangers ahead.  At stake is the nature and extent of Party leadership to be exercised in the "third sector ," as well as the Party's capacity to "selectively absorb," "integrate," or "comprehensively cover" new social forces in a manner that permits their continued development with a degree of autonomy.

“Discerning the Public from the Private: A Lexicon of Political Corruption During the Nanjing Decade,” Indiana University Working Paper Series on Language and Politics in Modern China, No. 8 (Spring 1996), pp. 30-55.  Bloomington, Indiana: East Asian Studies Center, Indiana University. Available at:,Thornton.pdf

Abstract: During the Republic era in Chinese history, the conceptual boundary between so-called "private" and "public" offences shifted dramatically, resulting in a larger sphere of legal jurisdiction for the Nationalist state. In addition, this enlarged scope of jurisdiction expanded to include the activities of local elites serving in semi- and even sometimes non-official capacities. These measures greatly expanded the legal and juridical interface between state and society with respect to local politics in areas under Guomindang control, and became an extension of the broader state-making process during the Nanjing Decade.