Thin Networks and the Appeals
of Organic Statism
Chapter 6 trained a spotlight on a special subset of the neighborhood’s constituents, those core supporters who choose to participate in its social and service programs. But it is not merely these individuals who look favorably on the residents’ committees (RCs) and the neighborhood wardens. As Table 7.1 shows, even among survey respondents who never or only “very rarely” participate in its official activities, it is still the case that most are positively inclined toward the organization. In both Beijing and Taipei, clear majorities of nonparticipants indicated approval of their RC or warden. In Beijing, more than half of those who do not take part in the committee’s activities nonetheless expressed willingness to provide assistance to it in a variety of circumstances.1 In Taipei, two-thirds of nonparticipants said they would prefer to maintain the neighborhood warden system rather than to abolish it. Thus, although these institutions are in part rooted in the strong ties among those who deeply enmesh themselves in community sociability, that is only one part of their basis.
This chapter aims to account for the origins of this approval outside of and apart from the subculture of neighborhood volunteers. The argument advanced here is that the RC’s and neighborhood wardens draw on several sources in winning goodwill for themselves among constituents. First, the personnel composing these ultra-local organizations are, in many cases, not strangers but rather community members who are familiar to the neighbor-