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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Quiet Confrontations: Transnational Advocacy Networks, Local Churches, and the Pursuit of Religious Freedoms in China

  • Author(s): Wang, Yun
  • Advisor(s): Leebaw, Bronwyn
  • Allison, Juliann
  • et al.

My dissertation project explores the question of how activist networks operate in a highly repressive country when outside intervention is restrained. People have seen how effectively the Chinese Communist Party has cracked down on transnational religious activisms sponsored by Falun Gong, the exiled Tibetan government, and the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, Protestant advocacy groups from the United States and elsewhere enter China each year, despite the fact that the Party has stated that no Chinese church is allowed to receive any form of foreign support. I argue that understanding this variation in the success of transnational religious networks sheds light on the significance of an approach to transnational collaboration that is quite different from the "naming and shaming" strategy that dominates the literature on advocacy networks. I tested this strategic alliance argument with a mixed-methods research design, including face-to-face interviews, participant observations in four major cities, and a cross-provincial phone survey in randomly selected prefectures.

This project makes notable corrections to previous understanding about protecting minority groups in authoritarian states. First, it addresses the neglect of religion and religious activists in the scholarship on transnational social movements and activism. Second, the strategic collaboration that is demonstrated by religious activists and advocates provides an alternative to the "naming and shaming" strategy of conventional transnational activism that more or less relies on powerful Western states and the United Nations. Third, the project identifies two commonly overlooked causal mechanisms between effective activism and its networks: the alliance strategy of foreign advocates and the leverage provided by government-sponsored social entities. The role of government-sponsored social organizations has been largely ignored in the existing literature. Members from legal entities often help fragile advocacy networks by providing information, legal protection, and connections, while brokering acquiescence from pragmatic local officials. In return, the advocacy networks provide funding, services and, most importantly, necessary legitimacy from globally recognized norms and standards. This unique benefit makes local leaders who ally with the advocacy networks seem more legitimate in the eyes of their own constituency.

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