In This Review

The Art of Political Control in China
The Art of Political Control in China
By Daniel C. Mattingly
244 pp, Cambridge University Press, 2019

Scholars increasingly find that state-society relations in modern China are too complex to be captured by concepts such as authoritarianism, totalitarianism, or, as some propose, partial democracy. Looking at the state’s relationship with rural society, Mattingly finds a dynamic system in which the state recruits low-level officials from within local kinship and religious networks. These officials try to serve both their superiors and their communities—and sometimes themselves. Mattingly’s sharply observed examples show how local officials help get villagers to give up land (usually for unfairly low compensation and often to be used by crony capitalists), comply with unpopular family-planning regulations, and stay silent in the face of corruption. But the system is delicately balanced. Where social networks are weak, local cadres are unable to exert control, and where those networks are strong, local leaders may try to protect their communities against the state. When that happens, the central government sends in the police.