Social Protest and Contentious Authoritarianism in China, by Xi Chen, Cambridge, €73.20, £60.00.
How does the Chinese Communist Party keep tight control over China's institutions and political participation? Allowing and facilitating collective bargaining seems to be doing the trick, at least for now. Bringing a claim "all the way to Beijing" is a well-known feature of Chinese society. Since imperial times, petitioners have had the option to 'skip-level' and seek redress for their wrongs in the capital. Once the elite's prerogative in imperial China, collective petitioning and social protests have become widespread in contemporary China and span a vast array of issues and social classes. This book provides a brilliant analysis of the surge of collective petitions and social protests since the beginning of the '90s. Based on unprecedented access to data, Xi Chen's research offers a rare look into the dramatic changes in government-citizen interaction as a result of China's transition towards a market economy, and the consequences that these new dynamics may place on China's path towards democratization. Xi Chen brings a new, groundbreaking concept to the table in China's political discourse: "Contentious Authoritarianism." Contentious authoritarianism describes the rare phenomenon that sees a strong authoritarian regime accommodating, and at times even facilitating, widespread and routine popular collective action. Far from being perfect or sustainable in the long term, contentious authoritarianism, he argues, is a key element in the resilience of CCP rule. While learning much about the complexities and challenges of the Chinese political system, the reader is surprised by the de facto flexibility of its special brand of authoritarianism.