Taking an interpretive approach, this study argues that Chinese political tradition plays an important role in the maintenance of regime legitimacy in China today. Contrary to the popular view that the Chinese Communist regime relies primarily on economic performance to sustain its legitimacy, the current regime legitimacy is maintained because of the historically rooted moral bond between the state and society and the societal expectation that the state would be responsible for the wellbeing of the population. The regime legitimacy in China has three overlapping layers: The basic layer is the morality of political elite. The crucial part of the morality is the benevolent governance which specifies that the government has to be compassionate to the people. The central component of a benevolent government is the state responsibility to the welfare of the people. All together, these layers create a moral bond between the state and society. The government will enjoy legitimacy as far as the society expects it to fulfill its end of the deal. This study further argues that the morality-based regime legitimacy in China has to be calibrated within its multi-level power structure. Governments at different levels enjoy different degree of legitimacy and face different degree of challenges. In general, the central government enjoys the most legitimacy and faces the least challenges comparing to the local governments. This multi-level power structure would cushion many regime legitimacy crises.
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世界银行东亚及太平洋地区扶贫与经济管理局, 从贫困地区到贫困人群: 中国扶贫议程的演进—中国贫困和不平等问题评估, 2009年,第iii页.
These six measurements are drawn from Muller’s operationalization of regime legitimacy: 1. proud to live under the current political system, 2. obligated to support the current political system, 3. respect political institutions in China today, 4. basic rights are protected, 5. courts are fair, and 6. personal values are the same as government values (, p. 23).
Wenfang Tang was compelled to write an essay on doing survey research in China in response to the consistent questioning of the reliabilities of the survey data by manuscript reviewers. See his “An Introduction to Survey Research in Urban China,” Issues and Studies, December 2002/March 2003, pp. 269–288.
According to various sources and calculations, the collective protest incidents had increased from 8,700 in 1994, to 90,000 in 2006, and to an unconfirmed number of 127,000 in 2008. The figure for 2008 was an “estimate” reported by Jacobs . In another news report, an estimate of 90,000 such incidents annually for 2007, 2008, and 2009 was quoted from a Chinese insider by Garnaut .
Zhao also listed territorial defense as the third dimension but argued that without a pending threat from other countries, the economic performance and moral conduct therefore become the most important dimensions of legitimacy.
“今君身不能自治, 而望治百姓, 是犹曲表而求直影也”《周书》卷二十三, 《列传》第十五
It was a quote from Chen Sheng, the leader of the peasant rebellion that overthrew the Qin Dynasty in 209 BC.
The basic argument is that, first of all, no Confucian scholars deny the importance of a legal order. In fact, all the Confucian officials had to be an expert of legal codes of their times since they served as judges in Chinese court. Moreover, important Confucian moral prescriptions, such as filial piety, had been incorporated into legal codes.
“为政以德, 譬如北辰, 居其所而众星拱之,”《论语·为政》
The Chinese originals are“敦教化,” “从地利,” “濯贤良,”“恤狱讼,” “均徭役.”《周书》卷二十三,《列传》第十五.
The case originally appeared in《清朝名吏判牍》[Court Rulings of Famous Officials in Qing Dynasty] and was widely quoted in the study of court rulings in China. The case quoted in this discussion is from 郭伟 (Guo Wei), “浅读古代判词” [preliminary reading of ancient court ruling], http://rnxfy.chinacourt.org/public/detail.php?id=38 (last checked 10/6/09); and 刘素桢 (Liu Suzhen), “中国历代判词语言的法文化现代价值” [The Modern Value of Legal Culture in the Language of Chinese Historical Judgment], http://www.flrchina.com/center/works/001/001.htm (last checked 10/6/09).
“夫平均者, 不舍豪强而征贫弱, 不纵奸巧而困愚拙.”《周书》卷二十三,《列传》第十五.
“一夫吁嗟, 王道为之倾覆.” ibid.
According to one calculation based on purchasing power parity, one tael of silver in Qing dynasty equals to 200RMB. (http://ks.cn.yahoo.com/question/1307021311733.html. last checked on 11/11/2009).
The term “Parental officials” (父母官) referred to government officials, the usage of which goes back to as early as the Han Dynasty. This term was replaced by “people’s servant” during Mao’s era and quietly resurfaced after 1978.
The common question would be how long a prolonged period is when people lose their expectations of the government. It varies depending on the strength of the government and the scale of the disaster. Toward the end of the Ming Dynasty, for example, peasant rebellion broke out after the famine persisted for more than a decade. Despite the government military campaigns that defeated the rebellious peasants, rebellions repeatedly reemerge because of the lasting famines. In the end, the peasant rebellions overthrew the Ming Dynasty.
For example, the national survey on legal awareness conducted by the Research Center for Contemporary China at Peking University in 2003–04 has shown that the popular trust in the central political institutions is much higher than the local ones. See .
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The main part of this study is derived from a chapter of my book on social protest to be published by the Routledge Press. I would like to thank Harry Harding and Howard Lehman for their invaluable comments. I would also like to thank the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore for providing me a research fellowship during which the research was conducted.
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Tong, Y. Morality, Benevolence, and Responsibility: Regime Legitimacy in China from Past to the Present. J OF CHIN POLIT SCI 16, 141–159 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11366-011-9141-7
- Regime Legitimacy