Dreaming in Chinese: Accountable Development

Barbara L. Bezdek, University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law

Document Type Article


Economic life in the PRC today is marked by rapid privatization, marketization, and urbanization. This triad of forces effects a profound restructuring of China's urban spaces and is giving rise to new forms of private, voluntary associations of citizens such as neighborhood campaigns of resistance to urban redevelopment. Civil society theory ascribes to such organizations outside of state control, the potential to constrain government officials by enabling citizens to express their collective interests more effectively, and to resist government encroachment more powerfully than they otherwise could. Because resort to China's courts has produced little protection for citizens' formal legal rights in the event of forced demolition, relocation, and compensation, urban homeowners have resorted to extra-legal modes of resistance including protests, petitions, and confrontations - some of them deadly. This article assesses the potential to construct an 'accountable development' frame as a set of strategies to channel resentment and resistance into bargained-for development agreements - situations between the market and the state, neither anti-regimist nor stymied by the 'turn from law.'