The recent years have seen a proliferation of scholarship on protests and other forms of collective action in China. Important insights have been gained into how conflicts between social groups and local governments begin, which strategies and instruments protesters apply, and under which circumstances protests are likely to succeed or fail. However, comparatively little is known about the mobilizing structures and how such action can be sustained over a long period of time - in some instances over several years. Such perseverance would be remarkable even in a democracy, but it is more so in an authoritarian system where the risks of participating in collective action are higher and the chances to succeed much smaller. We address this puzzle by comparing the development of public protests in two research locations, and identify four factors we consider instrumental for overcoming the formidable challenges of sustaining collective action in China: the continuing existence of substantial grievances, the re-activation of strong social ties, the presence of unifying frames and an adaptive protest leadership. The comparison shows that especially the last factor is crucial: while the two villages were similar in all other respects, leadership in Village B was far more adaptive in Village A, which goes a long way towards explaining why collective action could be sustained twice as long in Village B.
China Quarterly, 2013, Vol 216, p. 850-871
collective action, protest, mobilizing structures, social capital, protest leadership