Abstract

We study the propensity for protest in the context of individuals’ alternative choices in urban China. Depending on the number and quality of social ties (or guanxi in Chinese), individuals may resort to one of two alternatives: to engineer life-changing events through personal connections or to join others in labor protest. We call one “adaptation” and the other “voice.” As our working hypothesis, we first expect them to be mutually exclusive. That is, adaptation through guanxi networks may help diffuse the will to protest, as those who enjoy better guanxi networks would advance their class status through such networks. With data from a national survey, our analysis rejects this working hypothesis. Those who are better connected are not only more likely to adapt but also more inclined to voice, and the effect of social ties on protest is significantly smaller for those who are connected to people with power. The implications are twofold. First, our data not only confirm the well-known effect of social connections on protest, but also specify the effects caused by high-class versus low-class connections. Second, in a comparative vein, the individual decision making on adaptation and/or voice offers a glimpse into the intertwining domains of social space in contemporary China.

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