Scholars' Blog

Trinity 2023
By Rachel Liu (co-authored with Yuhan Hu)
By Rachel Liu (co-authored with Yuhan Hu)

Daily Performance of Insanity: New Resistance Repertoires in Chinese Lockdowns


How and why do citizens express their dissent under an increasingly repressive context in authoritarian regimes? Through an analysis of the evolution of resistance repertoires on Chinese university campuses during COVID lockdowns, this article theorizes an innovative repertoire, of dramatic daily resistance. Unlike conventional forms of resistance such as protests and hunger strikes, dramatic daily resistance presents a routine mode of action with insanity and abnormality. Drawing on exploratory data analysis of posts on Xiaohongshu and Weibo and interviews with student dissenters who made cardboard dogs and joined crawling, this article reveals that dramatic daily resistance, as an unconventional form of mobilization, challenges the traditional understanding of repertoires in contentious politics. Rather than claiming their demands directly, this tactical innovation signals authorities within and outside universities of the high degree of depression and grief among students by performing behaviours that are highly deviant from normality. Meanwhile, though the relatively low cost of adopting this repertoire would increase its mobilization and lower the likelihood of repression, the implicit demands accompanied might lead to authorities' underestimation and confusion in their intentions, thereby greatly limiting the repertoire’s ability to achieve concession. The findings foster a more nuanced understanding of covert resistance under an authoritarian context.

About the authors
Rachel Liu, 2022 Kwok Scholar, is pursuing the MPhil in Comparative Government at Oxford.
Hu Yuhan is a PhD candidate in Sociology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

This research paper was accepted by the 2023 American Political Science Association Annual Conference of the and the 2023 European Political Science Association Annual Conference.