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Neither Withdrawal nor Resistance: Adapting to Increased Repression in China


As repression grows in China, some pastors, lawyers, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are neither resisting it nor withdrawing from the public sphere, but instead are finding ways to adapt. Coping strategies include the following: being transparent about their activities and maintaining close communication with the authorities; cultivating allies in the government and giving credit to officials for their achievements; keeping the size of their organizations nonthreatening and consenting to a heightened party presence; staying a safe distance from “red lines” and focusing on less controversial issues; encouraging their constituents to accept compromises and government priorities; distancing themselves from activists who speak out against restrictions; shedding connections with foreign countries; and arguing that loyalty and moderation are the best means to make progress. The hope is that cooperation and exhibiting an understanding view of the Chinese Communist Party’s motives will preserve space to operate and suggest a path toward long-term coexistence. Accommodating pastors, lawyers, and NGOs take the regime as a given and work with the state rather than against it. By doing so, they retain some agency, even as deepening authoritarianism blurs the line between accommodation and co-optation. Potentially restive professionals are directed away from activities and ways of thinking that the authorities do not like and toward organizing themselves and acting in a manner that is deemed acceptable. They learn to avoid confrontation while they are steered to a safe place and rewarded (or at least tolerated) if they stay there.

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