The China Quarterly


“Fragmented Authoritarianism 2.0”: Political Pluralization in the Chinese Policy Process*

Andrew Mertha


Traditional analyses of political liberalization in China focus on elections or other facets of democratization. But they cannot account for the fact that although China remains authoritarian, it is nevertheless responsive to the increasingly diverse demands of Chinese society. I argue that the rules of the policy-making process are still captured by the fragmented authoritarianism framework, but that the process has become increasingly pluralized: barriers to entry have been lowered, at least for certain actors (hitherto peripheral officials, non-governmental organizations and the media) identified here as “policy entrepreneurs.” With policy change as the variable of interest, I compare three cases of hydropower policy outcomes. I argue that policy entrepreneurs' ability to frame the issue effectively explains variation in hydropower policy outcomes. I then extend these findings to an unlikely policy area, international trade, specifically, the 2001–06 Sino-EU trade talks over child-resistant lighter safety regulations.

Andrew Mertha is associate professor in the department of government, Cornell University. He is the author of The Politics of Piracy: Intellectual Property in Contemporary China (Cornell University Press, 2005) and China's Water Warriors: Citizen Action and Policy Change (Cornell University Press, 2008). His articles have appeared in The China Quarterly, Comparative Politics, International Organization, and Orbis.


* I would like to thank Sebastian Heilmann, Lianjiang Li, William Lowry, Dorothy Solinger, Patricia Thornton and Fei-Ling Wang for comments on earlier drafts. I am also grateful to Ka Ho Matthew Wong for his first-rate research assistance. All remaining errors are mine. Earlier versions were presented at the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting in Chicago, 1 September 2007 and at the International Studies Association Annual Meeting in New York City, 17 February 2009.