We develop theory on how a contentious moral market can develop, and we test it with data from a study of the commercialization of Buddhist temples in China from 2006 to 2016, as local government officials try to boost the local economy by transforming temples into tourist enterprises that charge admission fees. The practice is resisted by monks and the public such that the central government, which values public appearances of social justice, is pressured to support their resistance to local officials’ economic demands. Using a data panel of 141 temples, we show that temples’ admission fees are significantly related to the pressure that local government officials face to develop the economy. We also find that resistance to the fees exploits a factional political structure, as the monk-led movement leverages the influence of one political clique that is highly concerned with public appearances of social justice to resist the request of another. In addition, bottom-up channels such as the Internet and marketized media help the public voice its grievances, coordinate collective action, and therefore align with and mobilize the central government to override local government. The contentious view enhances our understanding of how resistance can be possible and effective, especially in an authoritarian regime.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
- Sociology and Political Science
- Public Administration