This review essay provides an analytical review of the most important works on the evolving nature of the state-society relationship in China post-1949. It is not intended to provide a new theoretical framework for understanding state-society relations; rather, the goal is to draw together the most important analyses in Western and Chinese writings. We begin by looking at the changing role of two key institutions that have been used by the state to manage society: the household registration system and the workplace. The analysis of the Maoist period looks at theories derived from Soviet studies as well as those that draw on the Chinese Communist Party’s own experiences pre-1949. We complete the review by looking at competing theories such as civil society, corporatism, or authoritarian resilience that seek to define the relationship and then look in depth at how to categorize the variety of state-society relations at the local level.