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Righteous Revolutionaries

Morality, Mobilization, and Violence in the Making of the Chinese State

Subjects: Asian Studies, China, Political Science, Political History, History, Chinese History
Paperback : 9780472055494, 312 pages, 15 illustrations, 19 tables, 6 x 9, September 2022
Hardcover : 9780472075492, 312 pages, 15 illustrations, 19 tables, 6 x 9, September 2022
Open Access : 9780472903597, 312 pages, 15 illustrations, 19 tables, 6 x 9, September 2022

Open access funding for this publication was provided by the Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies (LRCCS).
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A reexamination of one of the most violent and successful state-building efforts in history

Table of contents

List of Illustrations
List of Tables
Abbreviations for Major Archival and Documentary Sources    
Part I: Theory and Origins
Chapter 1. The Context and Structure of Violent Land Reform after 1949
Chapter 2. Tracing the Origins of Moral Mobilization                                              
Part II: Mobilizing Violence         
Chapter 3. The Process of Moral Mobilization                                                                    
Chapter 4. Coercive Control and Mass Mobilized Violence                                                     
Part III: Collective Identities and State Authority
Chapter 5. Constructing Class Enemies in Huaibei and Jiangnan                              
Chapter 6. Ingroup Solidarity and State-building During and After Land Reform
Part IV: Comparative Perspectives and Conclusion
Chapter 7 Moral Mobilization in Comparative Perspective                            Appendix A. Notes on Methodology and Sources                              
Appendix B. Table of Landlords Struggled Against in Baoshan County for Chapter 5


Righteous Revolutionaries illustrates how states appeal to popular morality—shared understandings of right and wrong—to forge new group identities and mobilize violence against perceived threats to their authority. Jeffrey A. Javed examines the Chinese Communist Party’s mass mobilization of violence during its land reform campaign in the early 1950s, one of the most violent and successful state-building efforts in history. Using an array of novel archival, documentary, and quantitative historical data, this book illustrates that China’s land reform campaign was not just about economic redistribution but rather part of a larger, brutally violent state-building effort to delegitimize the new party-state’s internal rivals and establish its moral authority.

Righteous Revolutionaries argues that the Chinese Party-state simultaneously removed perceived threats to its authority at the grassroots and bolstered its legitimacy through a process called moral mobilization. This mobilization process created a moral boundary that designated a virtuous ingroup of “the masses” and a demonized outgroup of “class enemies,” mobilized the masses to participate in violence against this broadly defined outgroup, and strengthened this symbolic boundary by making the masses complicit in state violence. Righteous Revolutionaries shows how we can find traces of moral mobilization in China today under Xi Jinping’s rule. In an era where states and politicians regularly weaponize moral emotions to foment intergroup conflict and violence, understanding the dynamics of violent mobilization and state authority are more relevant than ever before.

Jeffrey A. Javed is a former postdoctoral fellow at the Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies and the Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies at the University of Michigan. He currently lives in San Francisco.

“Methodologically innovative and intellectually nuanced, Javed’s analysis of the contribution of organized violence to state building reframes classic questions about the Chinese revolution. His meticulous reconstruction of the way that the staging and moral framing of violent land reform generated new political solidarities and group boundaries has much to teach students of the cultural and emotional dimensions of contentious politics.”
—Andrew G. Walder, Stanford University

- Andrew G. Walder

“This is an ambitious, well-written, thoughtful and polished piece of work. While it situates itself well within larger literatures on China and comparative politics, it also makes a novel argument about state building in mid-twentieth-century China.”
—Julia Strauss, SOAS University of London

- Julia Strauss

“An excellent and illuminating study. Highly recommended.”


"Land reform was an integral part of the Chinese communist movement. Previous scholarship has established that after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 land reform involved collective violence and that it was significant in communist China, not only for the redistribution of land. Reflecting and building upon these consensuses, Jeffrey A. Javed’s book, Righteous Revolutionaries,
makes fresh contributions to the field."
The China Quarterly

- Le Tao