Can Rightful Resistance Ever Cause Change in China?

By Corneill Spaapen

Throughout the 1980s, rural China went through some mass changes at the bottom end of society, with “rightful resistance” being an important part of creating some form of grassroots democracy in a country which has been dominated by one party for so long. However, it is difficult to envision this bottom up form of democracy ever going beyond the local level of governance, especially without any forms of violence.

O’Brien & Li give the theory of rightful resistance four main attributes: it operates close to the boundary of authorized channels; uses the power of rhetoric; uses the obligations of the powerful to reduce control (which is related to exploiting divisions within the state) and relies on rallying support from the people. What is distinctive about rightful resistance is the legitimacy of it – by sticking to the existing framework and not using violence, it is hard for political elites to discredit these movements. However, it is hard to see them maintaining this degree of legitimacy and causing any kind of change beyond local officials. Anything that goes above this, is met with brutal force and crackdowns to prevent this democracy from spreading.

An example of this is the city of Wukan. They elected their village chief in 2012, which was widely hailed at the time as a breakthrough for the grassroots democracy – he led the line against corrupt local authorities who had illegally seized and lined their pockets with the proceeds of selling it. The response of over a thousand police officers equipped with tear gas and rubber bullets blockading the village quickly found the chief, and arrested him. One villager even said that “it felt like we were pieces of tofu, beaten and smashed.”

Whilst this is only one example, it is hard for to envision rightful resistance causing changes beyond the implementation of grassroots democracy, especially the case in China. It may facilitate the beginning of a movement, but may never reach the full-blown levels of a revolution.

British Colonisation in Malaya: A Positive Thing?

Corneill Spaapen

Through a number of treaties between the late 1800s and 1930, the British Colonial Administrators gained control of the foreign affairs of the nine Malay sultanates on the peninsula, with the Federated Malay States coming formally into existence in 1896. Whilst also looking for new resources and bases in the area, periodic raids by Siam (now Thailand), piracy sustained by Malay rulers, and skirmishes between Malay rulers of tin-producing states and Chinese tin miners equipped by Chinese secret societies all threatened British commercial interests and motivated the British to become increasingly involved in peninsular affairs.

Although it is widely ascertained that colonisation in general has a negative impact on the state being colonised, could it be the case that Britain colonising Malaya was the best case scenario for Malaysia? When compared to other colonised nations in the region, this certainly seems to be the case. As two examples, it does seem that Malaysia has done better upon return to independence than both Indonesia (colonised by the Dutch) and Vietnam/Indochina (colonised by the French). Without going into depth into how development is measured, this can be arbitrarily seen through them having lower death rates, a higher percentage of GDP expenditure on education, higher HDI scores and lower levels of corruption.

Although it is likely that there are other factors driving postcolonial development, it is difficult to imagine Malaysia having the set up that it has today without British influence. Perhaps the more extractive regimes of Dutch or French colonisation would have led to the same point today, but as put forward by Lange et al. (2006), the effect of more extensive British colonialism “introducing a rule of law, effective administration, and competitive markets which helped with promoting development in the postcolonial period” can definitely be said to have had an impact. Alongside Ferguson’s notion of “anglobalization” being mostly a positive thing in his book Empire, it may be true to say that the positives of the British incursion into Malaya outweighs the negatives.