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Top-Level Intervention and the Turning Point at Wukan: An Exploration of Top-Level Government Behavior within Contentious Politics

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Abstract This paper attempts to look beyond the currently ideologically-charged interpretations of the turning point during the Wukan Incident and instead seeks to trace its real causes. Soon after the top-level authorities stepped in to deal with the Incident, we quickly witnessed the rapid process of turning the Incident around, set in motion by five types of measures/mechanisms. Firstly, their direct involvement, breaking up the immediate standoff between the local government and the villagers. Secondly, determining that the Incident was, by nature, about interests, thus dispelling the political nature of the Incident. Thirdly, positioning themselves on the side of the people, thus easing the contentious nature of the Incident. Fourthly, adopting a combination of both leniency and stringency to dispel confrontational sentiment amongst the organizers. Finally, releasing the detained villagers and returning the body of Xue Jinbo, relieving the blanket of grief that had enveloped the village during the contention. These measures were in keeping with the belief of the organizers that the top-level authorities were both more willing than the local government to solve their problems, and more able. This paper opens a new avenue for beginning to develop our understanding of government behavior during contentious politics. It is also an attempt to make up for the present ‘omission of the state,’ which is one of the weaknesses of existing research on contentious politics in reform-era China


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