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

By Benjamin L. Read | Go to book overview

Chapter Five
Perceptions and Interaction

As the previous two chapters have begun to show, the power dynamics between the official neighborhood organizations and their constituents assume many forms in both Beijing and Taipei. A grasp of these basic power relationships makes it possible to pursue answers to one of the fundamental questions posed at the outset: How do individuals perceive, interact with, and respond to these multifaceted organizations? We aim to make sense of their subjective understanding of these ultra-local extensions of state authority.

Many of the things that administrative grassroots engagement (AGE) institutions do on a day-to-day basis are unquestionably beneficial to residents, such as selling bulk-rate household goods, helping to handle certain types of paperwork, or offering advice on how best to approach the state bureaucracy. Others are more ambiguous in their relation to residents’ interests. Things like upholding the rules on improvised, sub-code kitchens and sheds or intervening in hallway disputes are welcomed by some and not by others. The residents’ committees (RCs) and the wardens make decisions that cannot help but displease parts of their constituencies—for instance, choosing whether to pave over a patch of flat land to turn it into parking spaces or to leave it as green landscaping. Still other aspects of their work inherently run the risk of alienating people, such as requesting sensitive, personal information or blowing the whistle on residents who violate important policies or laws. This is particularly true in the case of China’s residents’ committees, which engage in a pervasive

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