How do weak activists organize under duress?  


Based on political ethnography inside labor organizations in China, this book reveals how state repression is deployed on the ground and to what effect on mobilization. It presents a novel dynamic of civil society contention - mobilizing without the masses - that lowers the risk of activism under duress. Instead of facilitating collective action, activists coach the aggrieved to challenge authorities one by one. In doing so, they lower the risks of organizing while empowering the weak.

Winner of the 2018 American Political Science Association’s Luebbert Award for Best Book in Comparative Politics

Winner of the 2019 International Studies Association International Political Sociology Section’s Best Book Award

Co-Winner of the 2019 American Sociological Association’s Charles Tilly Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship Book Award



University of California, San Diego May 9, 2019

The New School April 18, 2019

Harvard University April 11, 2018 

National Committee on U.S.-China Relations April 9, 2018

NYU U.S.-Asia Law Institute April 9, 2018

George Washington University Mar. 26, 2018

University of Pennsylvania  Mar. 18, 2018

Columbia University Oct. 16th, 2017

"Nearly seventy years ago, Mao Zedong's Communist party came to power through mass protests and a people's army. Since then his successors have been increasingly intent on limiting the possibilities for mass protest of their policies or organized resistance of any sort. Diana Fu ingeniously explores and explains how China's modern citizens are working around those constraints and creating new forms of apparently-unorganized resistance. This is an important and under-appreciated part of the struggle to determine China's political future."

James Fallows, Senior Editor, The Atlantic Magazine

“Drawing on extensive interviews and participant observation with above-ground and underground labor organizers and migrant workers, Diana Fu shows how contentious activity is organized ‘without the masses’ in China, in quiet but effective contradiction to the country’s official labor policies. Her deeply embedded ethnography shows how organizers have adapted to the fragmented opportunity structure of the Chinese state at the local level. Her book represents an important contribution to the literature on contentious politics and is a milestone in our understanding of China’s powerful but deeply flawed industrial relations system.”

Sidney Tarrow, Maxwell M. Upson Professor Emeritus of Government, Cornell University

“Based on remarkable participant-observation field work, Diana Fu provides a rare and revealing look inside the otherwise opaque world of China’s labor NGOs. These activist organizations, operating in innovative ways to evade state detection and repression, indicate a more robust Chinese civil society than we usually assume.Mobilizing Without the Masses is a must-read, not only for those studying contemporary China but for anyone interested in the possibilities for social mobilization and social justice in authoritarian regimes.”

Elizabeth J. Perry, Henry Rosovsky Professor of Government, Harvard University

“Diana Fu shows how weak civil society organizations struggle to survive and facilitate contention in an authoritarian system. In particular, she argues that in contemporary China mobilizing can focus on coaching individuals or small groups and may never develop into conventional collective action. Mobilizing Without the Masses stands out for disaggregating the state horizontally, rather than vertically, and because it unpacks the repression—mobilization nexus in a strikingly bottom-up, close-to-the-ground way. Fu explores what needs to be collective about collective action and how the response to migrant worker demands is not always uniform. Because Fu negotiated more access to difficult-to-reach people than anyone in recent memory, we are not likely to see another book like this on Chinese activism and techniques of control soon.”

Kevin J. O'Brien, Walter and Elise Haas Professor of Asian Studies, UC Berkeley