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

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

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

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

Synopsis

Most social science studies of local organizations tend to focus on "civil society" associations, voluntary associations independent from state control, whereas government-sponsored organizations tend to be theorized in totalitarian terms as "mass organizations" or manifestations of state corporatism. Roots of the State examines neighborhood associations in Beijing and Taipei that occupy a unique space that exists between these concepts.

Benjamin L. Read views the work of the neighborhood associations he studies as a form of "administrative grassroots engagement." States sponsor networks of organizations at the most local of levels, and the networks facilitate governance and policing by building personal relationships with members of society. Association leaders serve as the state's designated liaisons within the neighborhood and perform administrative duties covering a wide range of government programs, from welfare to political surveillance. These partly state-controlled entities also provide a range of services to their constituents.

Neighborhood associations, as institutions initially created to control societies, may underpin a repressive regime such as China's, but they also can evolve to empower societies, as in Taiwan. This book engages broad and much-discussed questions about governance and political participation in both authoritarian and democratic regimes.

Excerpt

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. 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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