Bureaucrat-assisted contention in China is a type of collective action in which native-born local officials help socioeconomic elites launch or sustain popular action against outsider party secretaries by leaking information and sabotaging repression. Bureaucrats who assist local influentials are neither elite allies nor institutional activists. Instead, they unleash or support collective action as a weapon in a power struggle against ambitious, heavy-handed or corrupt superiors. Unlike mass demonstrations that are mobilized as a bargaining chip, bureaucrat-assisted contention hinges on a partnership with local elites who have their own grievances and pursue their own goals. Because it combines bureaucratic politics and popular action, this type of contention can help us understand underexplored aspects of political opportunities, framing, and mobilizing structures. In particular, it shows how participants in contention sometimes span the state-society divide, and how collective action can influence (and be influenced by) power struggles within a government.

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