The Society of Senior Citizens and Popular Protest in Rural Zhejiang
Forthcoming in The China Journal, No. 71 (January 2014)
33 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2013 Last revised: 15 Feb 2014
Date Written: December 2, 2012
Societies of Senior Citizens (SSCs) are often thought to be non-political organizations mainly focused on community traditions and services for the elderly. In Huashui town, Zhejiang, however, SSCs took the lead in mobilizing protest and causing 11 factories to be closed. From 2004 to 2005, SSCs helped fund a lawsuit, engineered a petition drive, and organized tent-sitting at a chemical park notorious for its pollution. During the encampment, SSCs drew up schedules for tent-sitters, offered compensation to protesters, provided logistical support, applied pressure on those reluctant to participate, and drew nearby villages into the protest. Huashui’s SSCs were effective mobilizing structures owing to their strong finances, organizational autonomy, effective leadership, and the presence of biographically-available, unafraid older villagers. Skilful mobilization led to efforts to rein in village SSCs. Town SSCs were established to oversee them, SSC seals were confiscated, and Societies in natural villages were instructed to shut down. This reorganization only had a limited effect. Since the 2005 protests, Huashui’s SSCs have played a larger, more assertive role in village affairs, including approving development plans and land use decisions. SSCs have also kept a close watch on village factories and have even flexed their muscles in local elections. SSC experiences in Huashui suggest that organized protest in China is more feasible than often thought and that understandings of protest outcomes should go beyond the success or failure of an episode to explore long-term consequences for the organizations involved.
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