Kevin O'Brien: Politics at The Boundary

8 July 2011

China Studies Distinguished Lecture Series

The state is a famously elusive concept. One way to understand a state is to view it from below, from the perspective of people advocating change.

Prof. O'Brien suggests, in China, lawyers, journalists and NGO leaders who operate at the boundary of the acceptable are attentive to signals about what the authorities will tolerate. Their experiences suggest that mixed signals about the limits of the permissible is a key feature of the Chinese state. Beyond a few, well-patrolled "forbidden zones," the Chinese state speaks with many voices and its bottom line is often unclear. In China and other authoritarian regimes, how the authorities treat advocacy reveals much about the nature of the state. At the border of the ordinary and the forbidden, the Chinese state is not the high-capacity juggernaut familiar from the headlines, but a hodgepodge of disparate actors ambivalent about what types of activism it can live with.

Professor O'Brien's research focuses on Chinese politics in the reform era. His most recent work centres 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 Congressand the Politics of Institutional Change (Cambridge, 1990, paperback, 2008) and the co-author of Rightful Resistance in Rural China (Cambridge, 2006). 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 October 2010, his new co-edited volume, Grassroots Elections in China, was published by Routledge.

Time: 5.30pm - 6.45pm

Location: Rm 310, Old Teachers' College, China Studies Centre

Cost: Free