Activist Acquiescence: Power, Pollution and Access to Justice in a Chinese Village


This paper studies access to justice in China. It provides an in-depth case study of three decades of failed local activism to deal with environmental grievances. The paper finds that access to justice need not be a matter of choosing between justice from above or from below. Rather the patterns of action in this case are the result of strong control exercised by local industry, local village leadership and the state, as well as by internalized frameworks of thought and practice amongst villagers. Moreover, the paper finds that the forms of action taken here strengthen the existing manifestations of power that control grievance awareness and potential activism. As such the paper provides a new view on contentious politics in China, showing how activism can be neither rightful resistance type justice from above, nor effective justice from below. Instead it can also occur in the form of activist acquiescence, where citizens have come to accept their powerlessness and the limited role as activists still allowed, and where their activism strengthens citizen controls without stimulating justice, resulting in submission instead of resistance.

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