Sustaining collective action in urbanizing China

Xianwen Kuang, Christian Göbel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


In recent years there has been 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 collective 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. This article compares the development of public protests in two research locations and identifies four factors instrumental to 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 the last factor is particularly crucial: while the two villages were similar in all other respects, leadership in village B was far more adaptive than in village A, which goes a long way towards explaining why collective action could be sustained twice as long in village B.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)850-871
Number of pages22
JournalChina Quarterly
Issue number216
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • collective action
  • mobilizing structures
  • protest
  • protest leadership
  • social capital
  • urbanizing China


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