“Thugs-for-Hire”: Subcontracting of State Coercion and State Capacity in China

“Thugs-for-Hire”: Subcontracting of State Coercion and State Capacity in China



Lynette Ong, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science and Asian Institute, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto

Date and Time

February 7, 2018 4:45 PM - 6:00 PM



RSVP required by 5PM February 06.


Philippines Conference Room
Encina Hall, Third Floor, Central, C330
616 Jane Stanford Way, Stanford, CA 94305

This talk will be conducted off the record.

This paper introduces the concept of "Thugs-For-Hire" (TFH) as a form of third-party state coercion. Violence or threat of violence, which is essential to the thugs' actions, helps to push through unpopular policies and subjugate recalcitrant population. Third-party violence as a form of privatized covert repression also allows the state to evade responsibility. Weak states are more likely to deploy TFH than strong states do, mostly for the purpose of bolstering their coercive capacity. Yet, state-TFH relationship is functional only in so far as the state is able to maintain an upper hand in exerting control over the violent agents. Third-party violent coercion is also detrimental to state legitimacy. Focusing on China, a seemingly paradoxical case as it is traditionally seen as a strong state, I examine how local states frequently deploy TFH to evict homeowners, enforce one-child policy, collect exorbitant exactions, and to deal with petitioners and protestors.

Lynette H. Ong is an associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto, with a joint appointment at the Munk School of Global Affairs. She writes about authoritarian politics, contentious politics and the political economy of development. She is the author of Prosper or Perish: Credit and Fiscal Systems in Rural China (Cornell University Press, 2012). Her publications have appeared or are forthcoming in Perspectives on Politics, Comparative Politics, International Political Science Review, China Quarterly, China Journal, among others. Her writings have also appeared in the Washington Post, Foreign Affairs and New Mandala.

This event is part of the 2018 Winter Colloquia; An Expanding Toolkit: The Evolution of Governance in China

China has undergone historic economic, social and cultural transformations since its Opening and Reform. Leading scholars explore expanding repertoires of control that this authoritarian regime – both central and local – are using to manage social fissures, dislocation and demands. What new strategies of governance has the Chinese state devised to manage its increasingly fractious and dynamic society? What novel mechanisms has the state innovated to pre-empt, control and de-escalate contention? China Program’s 2018 Winter Colloquia Series highlights cutting-edge research on contemporary means that various levels of the Chinese state are deploying to manage both current and potential discontent from below.


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