Yu Tao
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Doctoral Project 博士项目

Enemies of the State or Friends of the ‘Harmonious Society’?Religious Groups and Collective Protests in Contemporary Rural China

My doctoral project aims to investigate the puzzling relationship between religious groups and collective protests in contemporary rural China.

This research adapts mixed methods. It starts from an ongoing theoretical debate in political science: while some people suggest that religious groups act as ‘social tranquillisers’ which could reduce the occurrence of contentious collective actions; others claim that religious groups are actually ‘social stimulants’ which could bring about more contentious collective actions. Both arguments are tested by the first-hand survey data collected from 120 randomly collected sample villages in rural China by a research team of which I am a core member.

However, the quantitative regression results suggest that apparently there is no significant correlation between religious groups and collective protests in contemporary rural China. Instead of simply assuming that religious groups are irrelevant to collective protests, based on my personal observations, fieldwork experiences, and a review of the literatures on intermediate associations and social stability in the world’s most populous country, I suggest that the relationship between religious groups and collective protests in contemporary rural China may vary under different circumstances:

First, religious groups in Chinese villages are more likely to involve in contention mediation when they overlap with secular social organisations, and hence they are more likely to have an impact on the scale of collective protests when they overlap with secular social organisations such as Elderly Citizens’ Associations and Folk Culture Clubs.

Second, among religious groups that overlap with secular social organisations, those also overlapping with local authorities (e.g. including incumbent or retired cadres as group members) are more likely to reduce the chance of occurring collective protests, thanks to the facts that they are more likely to be trusted by both ordinary villagers and local officials and hence have stronger capability to form negotiating channels between the state and society.

The patterns and mechanisms underlying the aforementioned framework have been confirmed by the findings through comparative cases studies, typical cases analysis, and the statistical results of the regression models based on my national survey database. More detailed discussions will be included in my thesis, which is currently under progress.

Focusing on two important socio-political issues (i.e. religious groups and contentious collective actions) in contemporary China, my research has the potential to be both academically and politically important. It could also inspire the Chinese government – and hopefully its counterparts in the other countries with similar institutions and in similar situations – to adopt reasonable policies for governing religious groups and promoting social stability.

Supervisor: Dr. Patricia M Thornton

Other Research Interests 其他研究兴趣
  • state-society relations
  • intermediary social groups
  • the meaning of role models in modern China
  • innovative marketing strategies of states, international reigns, and NGOs
  • the relationship between disciplinary studies and area studies (especially, the relationship between political science and China studies)
Research Funding 研究经费
Past Research Funding 以往研究经费




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This page was last updated on 22 December 2012 | © Yu Tao 2012