Roots of the State: Neighborhood Organization and Social Networks in Beijing and Taipei

By Benjamin L. Read | Go to book overview
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Chapter One
Introduction
Administration at the Grass Roots in East and Southeast Asia

From the main avenue, the route to Chongxing community still runs through the alleys known as hutong—not the elegant kind often found in the old Manchu quarters, but the ramshackle warrens of southern Beijing, some barely wide enough for two pedestrians to pass. In the furious run-up to the 2008 Olympic Games, the city built a brick wall and a cosmetic ribbon of lawn and shrubs to hide this maze. Behind that facade, capillary-like lanes wend past doors that lead to small courtyards, around which cluster cramped homes, many of them single rooms. On the way, you pass the old office, where the women of the residents’ committee once spent winters gathered around a coal-burning stove—now rented out to boisterous migrant workers. Characters chalked in cursive on a nearby blackboard exhort residents to mind the Eight Honors and the Eight Shames, one of the ideological refrains of the Hu Jintao era.1 As placards, bulletin boards, and posters of all kinds have done for decades around China’s cities, whether trumpeting such national campaigns or conveying more prosaic imperatives, they also signal the presence and authority of the neighborhood organization.

Set in its own courtyard where several alleys join, the new office of this body announces itself with bold sign plates emblazoned with the names of the district, street office, and community, paired with a red-lettered counterpart denoting the Communist Party committee. Inside lie several freshly painted meeting rooms and offices, among them the desk of the party secretary Liao

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