But, of course, the Chinese regime has not collapsed and does not seem to be in its death throes. This is puzzling in some respects, because the country experiences annual protests that reportedly topped 180,000 as recently as 2010. Clearly popular discontent is high and Chinese citizens participate in contentious politics in large numbers, but these remain mostly localized affairs targeted at local issues, such as corrupt, low-ranking officials who engage in land grabs. Aside from the June 4 incident of 1989, they have not transformed into protest movements coordinated on a national scale and positioned against the central government itself, as appeared rapidly in Tunis and Egypt’s Tahrir square.

So why have Chinese citizens trended towards localized protests rather than the national protest movements seen in the Arab spring? As discussed in an important body of research, one source of this difference is linked to the structure of the state itself. In China, unlike most autocracies – including Mubarak’s Egypt and Ben Ali’s Tunisia—the state is highly decentralized. Local governments are given a substantial level of autonomy over development policies as well as social management – decisions related to dealing with popular challengers through repression or alternatively, the extension of concessions.

Since local authorities make decisions over the carrots and sticks used to address the demands of citizens with a high degree of autonomy, these officials rather than the national leadership or the regime itself are the primary target of most protest actions. In fact, it is a common phenomenon in China that aggrieved locals will appeal to the Center for assistance against corrupt local officials, even making reference to local officials’ poor enforcement of central directives and policies.Thus, the struggles faced by everyday Chinese are often directed at particular local officials and local issues, limiting the desire of protestors to take the dangerous leap of coordinating their actions across local communities to challenge the regime itself.