Mass media play an important role in grassroots democracy, yet the dynamics of media-citizen interaction remains under-researched. Using the case of the 'Civil Monitory Organization' (CMO) programme in Zhejiang's Wenzhou city, this article shows how local media, and the local government to whom the local media are held accountable, shape citizen participation. This article develops the framework of 'contingent participation' to analyze the constraints on local political participation. Based on the observation of CMO activism, this article typologizes four participation behaviours: (1) symbolic participation; (2) instrumental participation; (3) managed participation; and (4) transgressive participation. This article concludes that contingent participation yields paradoxical results inherent under authoritarian rule: it aims to mobilize citizens to hold government accountable, yet denies the free flow of information and full participation of citizens.