How Large-Scale Protests Succeed in China: The Story of Issue Opportunity Structure, Social Media, and Violence

Yunkang Yang


Based on analysis of 26 large-scale protests in mainland China from 2011 to 2013, this study finds that the most important factor shaping large-scale protest outcome is issue opportunity structure. I argue that the issue opportunity structure in mainland China opens space for environmental protesters to use social media as an organizational tool in a way that defuses tension/violence and increases the chance of success. Emboldened and empowered by abundant political opportunities in the environmental issue area, protesters are able to organize via social media—a rather risky mode of organizing—to construct inclusive, flexible, consistent collective action frames to further exploit political opportunities and generate the high online visibility that renders police brutality less likely. This study suggests that analysis of the causal mechanism of protest success in China must be situated in the issue opportunity structure.


political communication, protest in China, social media, violence, environmental activism

Full Text: