Outsourcing Repression: Everyday State Power in Contemporary China
Book, Government & politics, East Asia, Asian Institute, Munk School

Outsourcing Repression: Everyday State Power in Contemporary China

A compelling examination of China's engagement of nonstate actors as a counterintuitive solution to coerce citizens while minimizing backlash against the state.

How do states coerce citizens into compliance while simultaneously minimizing backlash? In Outsourcing Repression, Lynette H. Ong examines how the Chinese state engages nonstate actors, from violent street gangsters to nonviolent grassroots brokers, to coerce and mobilize the masses for state pursuits, while reducing costs and minimizing resistance. She draws on ethnographic research conducted annually from 2011 to 2019--the years from Hu Jintao to Xi Jinping, a unique and original event dataset, and a collection of government regulations in a study of everyday land grabs and housing demolition in China. Theorizing a counterintuitive form of repression that reduces resistance and backlash, Ong invites the reader to reimagine the new ground state power credibly occupies. Everyday state power is quotidian power acquired through society by penetrating nonstate territories and mobilizing the masses within. Ong uses China's urbanization scheme as a window of observation to explain how the arguments can be generalized to other country contexts.


"A granular, documented, and persuasive analysis of how authoritarian control is maintained on a quotidian basis in Xi's China. Lest we ever doubt that all authoritarian regimes operate 'outside' even their own hand-tailored, legal order, this fine study closes the case. A discerning examination of the atomization, perversion, and cooptation of what might otherwise be a mobilized, autonomous civil society." -- James C. Scott, Yale University

"Outsourcing Repression is a fascinating study of an important but underexplored issue about state control in China—outsourcing state repression to non-state actors. Analytically rigorous, this book uncovers how the state exercises its everyday coercion by securing the collaboration of social actors, mainly thugs-for-hire and brokers. This is an important book that sheds new light on the coercive power of authoritarian states." -- Yongshun Cai, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

"Ong provides what's likely to be the definitive account of socialized repression in contemporary China. That the state uses third parties to extend its power down to the grassroots (and to avoid backlash) is one of the key features of China's hardening authoritarianism, and a development of great importance to China scholars and comparativists alike." -- Kevin J. O'Brien, University of California, Berkeley