East Asia Workshop: Politics, Economy and Society

April 9 Workshop


A Theory of Protest Leadership:

Elites and the Mass in Workers’ Resistance in China


Xi Chen

Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill


4:30-6pm, Tuesday

April 9, 2013

Pick Lounge, 5828 South University Ave.



    During the industrial restructuring in China since the 1990s, tens of millions of workers and pensioners in state-owned enterprises suffered from massive lay-offs and pension arrears. While they have become one of the most combative social groups in China, their collective protests have seldom been effective. This paper investigates a fundamental barrier to their collective action – the vulnerability of the relationship between protest leaders and rank-and-file workers. The motivations of protest leaders played a central role in sustaining collective action, but their special interest can raise other workers’ suspicion especially when local authorities have tried to buy off the leaders. The decline of community life in restructured enterprises has also reduced social capital, and exacerbated workers’ mistrust of protest leaders. The paper thus sheds light on how government co-optation and a transformed urban space have shaped and constrained popular collective action in China.


Workshop website: http://cas.uchicago.edu/workshops/eastasia/

Student coordinator: Le Lin (lelin2010@uchicago.edu)

Faculty sponsors: Dali Yang, Dingxin Zhao and Zheng Michael Song

This presentation is sponsored by the Council on Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences and Center for East Asian Studies. Persons with disabilities who believe they may need assistance please contact the student coordinator in advance.

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