Yao Li, "Playing by the Informal Rules: Why the Chinese Regime Remains Stable despite Rising Protests" (Cambridge UP, 2018)


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In the developing world, political turmoil often brings an end to promising economic growth stories. During its period of rapid economic growth in the 1990s and 2000s, China experienced a remarkable surge in the number of public protests. Yet these protests did not destabilize the regime. Yao Li’s book, Playing by the Informal Rules: Why the Chinese Regime Remains Stable despite Rising Protests (Cambridge UP, 2018), combines quantitative research on a nationwide dataset of protests with in-depth qualitative fieldwork to investigate why. Li argues that a clear set of informal rules, followed by both protesters and government agencies, helped keep protests within bounds. If protesters engaged the regime rather than challenging it, limiting their demands and their protest strategies, they could expect a moderate response and some redress for their grievances. This helped stabilize rather than undermine China’s political system.

Author Yao Li is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminology & Law at the University of Florida. She holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from Johns Hopkins University. Before coming to the University of Florida, she was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation and was a lecturer at the University of Kansas. Her research combines quantitative and qualitative methods to address debates in the fields of social movements, environmental studies, political sociology, and development.

Recommendations from Professor Li: Plastic China, a 2016 documentary about the business of sorting and recycling imported plastic waste and the life of a young girl growing up in a small-scale household-recycling workshop. Islam, Authoritarianism, and Underdevelopment, a 2019 book arguing that a centuries-old alliance between religious officials and military authorities caused and perpetuates the economic and political stagnation of the Muslim world.

Host Peter Lorentzen is an Associate Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of San Francisco, where he leads a new digital economy-focused Master's program in Applied Economics. His research examines the political economy of governance and development in China.

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