British Journal of Political Science

Power Structure and Regime Resilience: Contentious Politics in China

a1 Division of Social Science, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

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cai y   [Google Scholar] 


Authoritarian governments may face serious uncertainties when dealing with popular resistance because of the unpredictable consequences of making concessions or repressing opposition. However, a political system with multiple levels of authority can help reduce the uncertainties by granting conditional autonomy to lower-level authorities. Such a power structure prevents excessive repression and unconditional concessions when the priorities of different levels of authority do not match. Under this political arrangement, the central authority can avoid blame when local authorities use repression. The divided power also helps reduce the uncertainties faced by the central authority because it will then have to deal with only a very limited number of instances of resistance. Using the case of China, this article shows that divided state power has allowed the party-state to maintain social stability amid numerous instances of social unrest during the reform era.

(Published Online May 13 2008)


a The author wishes to thank the anonymous reviewers and the Editor, Sarah Birch, for their suggestions.