Whether in physics or architecture or politics, changes in scale between the macro and the micro, the colossal and the intimate, bring about far-reaching transformations. A meeting of five people is not the same as a meeting of two hundred people. Mass democracy is not the same creature as its historical predecessors in towns or small cities. The same is true of ultra-local organizations that are fostered or drawn on by government. Like water, which behaves one way in individual drops, yet differently in a tank containing many gallons, state authority can operate and be perceived in strikingly divergent ways when it works through interpersonal ties rather than in distant, faceless institutions.
This study took on three basic questions. It started with the fundamental issue of how individuals in Beijing and Taipei, and in different parts of society, perceive administrative grassroots engagement (AGE), and how they understand and respond to the kinds of authority and obligations that the state channels through it. Building on the answers to that, the book has also explored two other primary questions. It has asked what this phenomenon tells us about the intermingling of vertical and horizontal networks, and the sociopolitical effects of putting community ties toward state-mandated purposes. And it has sought to understand the extent to which state-fostered grassroots organizations can serve as focal points for democratic participation and channels for popular influence.