Tilly Beyond Europe: Protest with Chinese
Characteristics Past and Present

by Ho-Fung Hung
March 29, 2010


The French Revolution and Britain’s reformist social movements at the turn of the nineteenth century, as delicately examined by Charles Tilly and others, have long been regarded as the origins of modern social movements in world history. I challenge this Eurocentric view by charting the autonomous path of evolution of Chinese protest from the eighteenth to the early nineteenth century and beyond. Through a survey of an array of riots, petitions, strikes, and rallies, etc., my study outlines how centralizing political power and expanding market were juxtaposed with the Confucianist orthodoxy to shape the appeals and strategies of mid-Qing protesters, who heralded a unique form of early modernity via their distinct repertoires of political claim-making. These repertories amalgamated the protesters’ quest for justice and autonomy with their filial respect of the imperial center and collectivist conception of moral goods under Confucianism. These repertories constituted a vital legacy which later hybridized with Western repertoires of contention to mold the course of China’s revolutionary and social movements till today.

Ho-fung Hung is Assistant Professor at the Department of Sociology of Indiana University. His research interest includes: contentious politics, globalization, nationalism, and social theory. His current projects include one that expounds how the Confucianist legacy shaped China’s trajectories of state formation and popular protests from the eighteenth century to the present, in contrast to the Western trajectories. Another project examines the dynamics and limits of the current economic ascendancy of China, as well as its impact on global capitalism. A third project traces China’s changing conception of nationhood in light of Beijing’s contentious interaction with Tibet, Hong Kong and Taiwan since 1949.