This study advances our understanding of the processes whereby actors select and play out particular tactics and framings from “repertories of contention” to fight against repressive states. Empirically, it focuses upon a unique dataset captured from a discussion group of 140 participants in an instant messenger app—WeChat. Related to a petition campaign in Beijing, the data reflect the claims of over 1,000 petitioners who had been forced to relocate to different parts of China by the building of the Three Gorges Dam (1994–2006). The real-time chronological exchanges online among petitioners and other displaced persons reveal the petitioners’ tactics against the state’s counterpetition strategies, and the motives behind the petitioners’ repertoire selection. Theoretically, this study seeks to understand this case of grassroots resistance in terms of Bourdieu’s concept of habitus. It shows that the actors pursued parochial and rent-seeking motives—as symbolized in the discursive usage of nao (or troublemaking)— more than their defense of legal and constitutional rights as citizens. Both the characteristics and outcomes of such repertoire selection, shaped by what I call the habitus of nao, are discussed.

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