State and Society in 21st Century China: Crisis, Contention, and Legitimation
Young, Graham, The China Journal
State and Society in 21st Century China: Crisis, Contention, and Legitimation, edited by Peter Hays Gries and Stanley Rosen. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004. xvi + 263 pp. £19.99 (paperback).
The ambitious scope of this book is evident from the terms in its title-state, society, crisis, contention, legitimation. It is clearly a challenge to encompass all of these large themes in a work of some 250 pages, and to integrate the approaches of 12 authors in order to address those themes in a systematic fashion. By and large the challenge is met successfully. What might have been a rather mundane collection of reports concerning social conflicts in China is enriched by the skill of the contributors in synthesizing the findings of large bodies of recent research while adopting a self-conscious intention to "rethink" frameworks of scholarly analysis.
The areas of contention covered include two chapters on unemployed workers-Dorothy Solinger on "the shift of the urban proletariat from master to mendicant" and Timothy Weston on the state's reneging on its "social contract" with industrial workers, focusing on unemployment in "the Chinese rust belt". Patricia Thornton examines local-level tax protests; Kevin O'Brien, local cadre misconduct; and Colin Mackerras, Han-minority relations. Teresa Wright writes on the China Democracy Party and the China Labor Bulletin, Stanley Rosen on attitudes and behavior of Chinese youth, and Brace Dickson on Communist Party adaptation, especially its strategy of inclusion. Two chapters concern nationalism-Peter Gries on the changing relationship between official nationalism and expressions of popular nationalism, and Richard Kraus on the significance of regaining plundered Chinese art works. Vivienne Shue addresses the notion of legitimacy crisis most explicitly, and Harley Balzer offers a comparative perspective on transition from state-socialism, focusing on Russia.
This is a very good book. To a large extent the editors have adopted a formula of guaranteed success, in presenting chapters by authors of the highest standing in their areas of expertise, such as Solinger or Mackerras. The collection not only has state-of-the-field authority but also conveys the complexity of issues by unpacking the terms "state" and "society", providing an effective and encompassing view of the sources of contention in Chinese society and politics and the relationships between the two. Also impressive is the sense of the dynamics of emerging contention. Most notable here is the chapter by O'Brien, typical of the subtlety and insight of his analyses of Chinese politics.
While contention is richly portrayed, the other two terms of the sub-title are not served so well. It is not clear that we are in any way presented with a "crisis", in either of the senses commonly used-a great danger, or a major turning-point. Indeed, several of the contributors suggest otherwise, as in Shue's sceptical views on the existence of any "crisis of legitimacy" (p. 43) and Balzer's more general cautionary comments.
In dealing with legitimation, the book tends to suggest questions without always getting very far in suggesting answers. To some extent this is a result of the commitment indicated by the editors-"an inductive, bottom-up interrogation of political contestation in China", in order to avoid the problems of "liberal bias" and "procrustean [approaches], foisting Western categories and concepts on Chinese realities" (pp. 4-5). The benefit of that commitment can be seen in the solid empirical groundings of most of the chapters. Nevertheless, several chapters see the utility of extra-Chinese categories and concepts. …