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Kevin O'Brien

Walter and Elise Haas Professor of Asian Studies; Jack M. Forcey Chair in Political Science; Director of the Institute of East Asian Studies
Current Status
On leave, 2021-2022
510 704 3740
712 Social Sciences Building
Personal Statement

Kevin O’Brien holds the Jack M. Forcey Chair in Political Science at UC-Berkeley. He is also the Director of Berkeley's Institute of East Asian Studies and the Walter and Elise Haas Professor of Asian Studies. He received a B.A. from Grinnell College and a Ph.D. from Yale University, and taught at Ohio State before moving to Berkeley in 2000. His research focuses on contemporary Chinese politics, especially at the grassroots. Among his publications are Reform Without Liberalization: China's National People's Congress and the Politics of Institutional ChangeRightful Resistance in Rural China (with Lianjiang Li), Engaging the Law in China: State, Society and Possibilities for Justice (co-edited with Neil Diamant and Stanley Lubman), Grassroots Elections in China (co-edited with Suisheng Zhao), Rural Politics in China (co-edited with Emily Yeh and Ye Jingzhong) and Popular Protest in China, as well as articles on legislative politics, local elections, fieldwork strategies, implementation, policing, rural protest and village-level political reform. Over the last decade, as his attention shifted from protest to "stability maintenance," his work has centered on theories of popular contention, particularly as concerns the policing of protest and types of repression that are neither "soft" nor "hard." In the last few years he has written articles with his students (and students of his students) on street-level cops; bureaucrats who take part in protests; local officials who prevent migrants from receiving promised services; grassroots cadres who broker land taking; Protestant pastors who cope with increased repression and find ways to adapt in difficult circumstances; the implementation of government transparency, and an NGO whose earthquake reconstruction program failed after it lost the community's trust. His main interest for many years has been the disaffected and trod-upon in society, and the strategies they use to improve their situation, as well as the front-line cadres and others who make political control real.

Academic Subfields
Research Interests
Contentious Politics
Protest Policing
Local Elections
Comparative Legislatures
Policy Implementation
State-Society Relations
B.A., Grinnell College, 1979
Ph.D., Yale University, 1987



(New York: Cambridge University Press,  2006)

Rural Politics in Contemporary China (ed. with Emily T. Yeh and Ye Jingzhong) (London: Routledge, 2014) Reviews


(Cambridge: Harvard University Press,  2008) Reviews



Engaging the Law in China: State, Society and Possibilities for Justice (ed. with Neil J. Diamant and Stanley B. Lubman) (Stanford: Stanford University Press,  2005) Reviews

Reform Without Liberalization: China’s National People’s Congress and the Politics of Institutional Change (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990) Reviews


Grassroots Elections in China (ed. with Zhao Suisheng) (London: Routledge, 2011) Reviews


Protest Control and Policing
Village Elections
The China Field
Policy Implementation
Agrarian Studies