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Many autocratic states cultivate networks of informants and operatives who have responsibility over small local cells. This chapter shows how the Chinese state has constructed a modern system of infiltration organized around sub-village cells. This decentralized system of informal control enables local officials to closely monitor local society. Case study and quantitative evidence show how village cell leaders help local officials implement policies including land confiscation and family planning quotas. Hiring more informants and putting them in charge of smaller cells, while costly, increases compliance with state policies. This strategy of infiltration is largely a substitute for cultivating and co-opting civil society.
In this concluding chapter, I briefly recap the main findings and then examine their broader implications. The case of Wukan Village shows how the strategy of informal control can be effective in the short run but backfire in the long run. The most effective check on autocratic state power is unlikely to come from the state itself, but from an adversarial relationship between local civil society and the state. Independent community leaders and activists who can mobilize their groups and threaten officials with broad-based political mobilization can even the balance of power between the state and society, and create meaningful incentives for responsiveness.
In this chapter, I turn my attention to the dynamics of co-optation of local notables. One might expect that the inclusion of communal elites in local political institutions might strengthen the voice of villagers and make local governments more responsive. By contrast, I argue that when communal elites are included in formal political institutions in rural China, they help the state control their group. Drawing on evidence from case studies, an original experiment, and a national dataset, I show how the inclusion of local elites in formal political bodies allows the state to requisition land and enforce family planning policy while forestalling collective action. Case studies from Scotland and the United States suggest that this mechanism of informal control may have applicability beyond China. When the leaders of communal groups remain outside the state, however, they can help to organize resistance against it.
How do authoritarian governments control society? How, in turn, can citizens control the state? The conventional wisdom is that a strong civil society increases citizen control over their governments, even in autocracies. The central argument of this book, by contrast, is that in autocratic states, civil society groups can give officials leverage over citizens and strengthen the state’s coercive capacity. This chapter explains how autocrats from China to Hungary to Venezuela to Russia have used civil society groups to strengthen authoritarian control. These institutions allow autocrats to reduce protest and implement coercive policies by giving authoritarian leaders moral authority and by helping them monitor society. Autocrats use three key tactics of “informal control”: they cultivate civil society groups, co-opt their leaders, and create parallel institutions of infiltration.
This chapter lays out a theory of political control. How does the Chinese state control protest and implement policies such as sweeping urbanization schemes that displace millions or family planning quotas that restrict the reproductive choices of half the population? Scholars of authoritarian regimes like China have often focused on coercive institutions that strengthen state capacity. In this book, by contrast, I focus on everyday, informal methods of coercion. “Informal institutions of control” created by civil society groups encourage obedience by calling on the obligations, allegiances, and bonds that non-state groups create. Drawing on evidence from qualitative case studies, the chapter illustrates the three mechanisms through which informal control occurs: cultivating civil society groups, co-opting local notables, and infiltrating society. Informal control fosters compliance with the state but it can backfire in the long run by creating grievances and linking activists to each other. Finally, I explain how the state strategically deploys each of these strategies.
This chapter introduces the challenge of political control that faces the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in rural China. Local CCP officials face a governance dilemma. They must control protest and implement unpopular policies such as land expropriation and relocation, or family planning quotas. Yet, as an original experiment shows, CCP cadres are seen as less trustworthy than the leaders of local community groups like lineages or neighborhood associations. The remainder of the book illustrates the resourceful ways that party cadres use these social ties to their advantage.
Cultivating civil society – encouraging the establishment of non-state groups like churches, temples, or civic associations – can strengthen the state’s informal control over society. In this chapter, I show how local officials in China encourage the establishment of lineage associations, temple organizations, and social clubs as a way to infiltrate local society and increase their informal authority. I draw on case studies and a national dataset to show how the presence of these groups helps local officials requisition land and suppress protest. Governments outside China, from Asia to Latin America, have engaged in similar forms of informal control, suggesting the theory may not be limited to China. The flip-side of informal control is that if communities lack strong social organizations, activists can find creative ways to mount spontaneous, leaderless resistance.
When and why do people obey political authority when it runs against their own interests to do so? This book is about the channels beyond direct repression through which China's authoritarian state controls protest and implements ambitious policies from sweeping urbanization schemes that have displaced millions to family planning initiatives like the one-child policy. Daniel C. Mattingly argues that China's remarkable state capacity is not simply a product of coercive institutions such as the secret police or the military. Instead, the state uses local civil society groups as hidden but effective tools of informal control to suppress dissent and implement far-reaching policies. Drawing on evidence from qualitative case studies, experiments, and national surveys, the book challenges the conventional wisdom that a robust civil society strengthens political responsiveness. Surprisingly, it is communities that lack strong civil society groups that find it easiest to act collectively and spontaneously resist the state.