Chapter 10: The constructive significance of homeowners' rightful protest in China
Ying Wu and Junhua Chen
Urban China has experienced a dramatic reconstruction in spatial structure and grassroots governance over the last two decades of housing reform. The privatization and commercialization of urban housing fuelled the expansion of homeownership, and has given rise to a proliferation of protests by homeowners at the urban grassroots as well. Protection of rights has even become an important part of the social life of Chinese urbanites (Chen, 2009). Both material interests and governance rights are claimed in these protests. As they are led by elites and supported by professionals, most of the homeowners' protests operate within legal means. Even if antagonistic actions are sometimes used, most of the conflicts can be resolved within institutional channels (Zou, 2005). In brief, Chinese homeowners struggle for their rights in the form of rightful resistance proposed by O'Brien (1996). About the social potential of rightful resistance, however, there is a debate. While O'Brien and Li (2006) believed that rightful resistance could give rise to a far-reaching counter-hegemonic project, Perry (2009, p. 18) argued that 'the rights discourse of protesters in contemporary China may be better understood as an expression of "politics as usual" rather than as a novel demand for democracy on the part of a nascent civil society claiming autonomy from the state'. Although Read (2003) prudently claimed that the newly affluent do not regard their actions as part of a project of general democratization, Meng (2005) found a promising future for Chinese citizenship politics based on homeowners' protests.
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