Do foreign interventions matter in changing China’s authority structure? Many scholarly models cast external interventions as “cures” for all that ails struggling local communities and activists in repressive environments by providing political opportunities or resources. Others argue that interventions are doomed to fail given that strong authoritarian states are not susceptible to foreign power. Instead of taking either a celebratory or cynical perspective, this talk highlights the multifaceted and often contradictory aspects of interventions. I argue that transnational programs may expand political participation while producing and exacerbating participatory inequality, which could ironically strengthen the authoritarian apparatus of governance. This argument is developed based on a longitudinal ethnographic study on the evolution of Chinese HIV/AIDS politics between 1989 and 2017. I demonstrate how, after investing one billion US dollars, foreign organizations that aimed at promoting community engagement ended up de-radicalizing AIDS activism and manufacturing a civil society represented by urban gay men organizations who unwittingly served the Chinese government in the arena of infectious disease control.
Yan Long is an assistant professor of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. Her primary research and teaching interests span the domains of global health, organizational studies, authoritarian states, and transnational advocacy. Her research analyzes how transnational institutions evolve, and how such evolution challenge or sustain existing forms of domination and resistance. Across a range of issues such as health, advocacy, development, and sexualities, She examines the emergence of technocratic governance as an institutional model and its impact on the actorhood of organizations and individuals.