Politics and International Relations
Co-Authors: Yang Zhang - Dr, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Can the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) re-penetrate the society in rapidly urbanized China? Many Chinese cities have launched projects of social construction since around 2010. In addition to the enormous amount of resources the government invested on such projects, three aspects of such efforts are remarkable: 1) such projects always involved extensive building of grassroots party organizations in enterprises, neighborhoods and social organizations; 2) many cities took a surprisingly proactive approach toward social organizations, not only tolerating, but also supporting, sponsoring or nurturing a large number of non-government organizations; and 3) a number of projects focused on ordering and reshaping the built environment in neighborhoods. Why did the CCP launch such aggressive projects? We cannot simply attribute the CCP’s efforts to the general tendency for an authoritarian state to impose tight control on the society. Such projects indicate the Chinese state’s distinctive penchant for deep penetration into the society and the special challenges posed by the rapidly urbanized society in China. Drawing on in-depth interviews, participant observations, and government documents collected in Shenzhen, this paper examines how the tensions between the CCP’s ambitions and the challenges for penetrating the urban space have shaped the CCP’s urban policies. In particular, we argue that two primary challenges of social penetration—the party-state’s proximity and connections to the population and the legibility of the society—have had a great impact on the directions and content of the social construction projects.