From Mao to the great unknown

State and Society in 21st-century China
December 2, 2005

The contributors to this excellent volume address key questions in Chinese politics today: on what does state legitimacy depend? Who does the Chinese Communist Party represent? Will China democratise? As terms such as "transition", "contention" and "fragmentation" recur throughout the chapters, it is unsurprising that none of the authors offers clear answers.

Nevertheless, they pose thought-provoking questions of benefit to specialists and to students at all levels.

Vivienne Shue offers a convincing explanation of why the Falun Gong sect has been treated as a serious threat, identifying it as a challenge to the CCP's claim to represent truth. If the political significance of Falun Gong has not always been well understood, the potential of disillusioned labour to challenge CCP legitimacy has been plain since state-sector lay-offs began. Dorothy Solinger analyses the new "informalites" struggling from one underpaid, temporary job to another, stressing that their downward mobility and disempowerment are the result of deliberate decisions by the Chinese state, not market forces, while Timothy Weston provides an excellent account of the northeast's recent labour protests and what they mean for the CCP, the official unions, and the possibility that Solidarity's "Polish disease" might yet sweep China.

The volume provides an accessible entry point to the work of Teresa Wright on the China Democracy Party, the nearest thing to an opposition party since 1949, and Colin Mackerras on ethnic minorities' relations with the Han majority, particularly in the cases of Tibet and Xinjiang. Patricia Thornton examines tax protests and collective resistance, highlighting the use of "rhetorical repertoires and class-based opposition language" from Mao's China in contemporary state-society relations, while Kevin O'Brien contributes a lively chapter on the rigging of rural local elections.

Bruce Dickson offers preliminary thoughts on the changing makeup of CCP membership, with a complementary assessment by Stanley Rosen of the "fifth generation" of Chinese youth's attitudes towards the party, wealth and social stratification. Nationalism as a challenge to the CCP is considered by Peter Hays Gries, and demands for the return of looted art treasures to China by Richard Kraus. The volume is rounded out by Harley Balzer's worthwhile comparative perspective on China's transition away from communism and discussion of other chapters.

Jackie Sheehan is senior lecturer in contemporary Chinese studies, Nottingham University.

State and Society in 21st-century China: Crisis, Contention and Legitimation. First edition

Author - Peter Hays Gries and Stanley Rosen
Publisher - Routledge
Pages - 263
Price - £70.00 and £19.99
ISBN - 0 415 33204 4 and 33205 2

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