Drawn-out Protests in China’s Rustbelt: Land Revenue and the Limits to Bargained Authoritarianism

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The rise of the land revenue regime in China, characterized by land dispossession in the countryside and land redevelopment in the city, has sparked numerous protests. This study draws attention to the paradox that the regime has helped to mitigate labour unrest, at least temporarily, in China’s Rustbelt, where millions of workers were laid-off in the 1990s. Based on field research in Anshan, Liaoning province, and data from other cities in the Rustbelt, this article shows that laid-off workers’ protests persisted much longer than previously thought, largely owing to a lack of local fiscal resources to meet workers’ demands. Only with the growing revenue from land sales in the recent decade has the local government finally been able to ease the tension with laid-off workers. The article argues that bargained authoritarianism, or “buying stability,” widely considered to be an effective strategy by the local state to control social unrest, has its limits, mainly owing to its dependence on local fiscal resources. Recent economic downturns and declining land revenue will disrupt this strategy, leading to protracted protests and struggles in future.




Chen, X., & Zhan, S. (2022). Drawn-out Protests in China’s Rustbelt: Land Revenue and the Limits to Bargained Authoritarianism. China Quarterly, 252, 1162–1182. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0305741022000844

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