Journal of Chinese Political Science

, Volume 16, Issue 2, pp 123–140 | Cite as

“Performance Legitimacy” and China’s Political Adaptation Strategy

  • Yuchao ZhuEmail author
Research Article


The CCP government has adopted a very pragmatic strategy of “performance legitimacy” since China began its reform. It means that the government relies on accomplishing concrete goals such as economic growth, social stability, strengthening national power, and “good governance” (governing competence and accountability) to retain its legitimacy. While it is able to attain considerable domestic support by implementing this strategy, it has no particular interest in pursuing democratization. This chapter tries to make sense of the main reasons why it has adopted this strategy and to evaluate the political and social outcome of its policies. The chapter intends to discover if China’s adaptation strategy is a “path dependent” decision, and if it will function as a potential catalyst for significant political change in the future. The chapter also explores what the Chinese government has achieved through its adaptation strategy and what and why it has been unwilling or unable to do to obtain an “original justification” of power. Zhu skillfully travels back and forth between the terrains of theory and practice to make better sense of legitimacy and governance in China’s experiences.


Legitimacy Governance Adaptation Accountability Path-dependence 


  1. 1.
    Beetham, David. 1991. The legitimation of power, 16–19. Houndsmills: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Bell, Daniel A. 2008. China’s new Confucianism: Politics and everyday life in a changing society, 184. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Burton, Charles. 2008 “The “Beijing Consensus” and China’s Quest for Legitimacy on the International Stage.” In eds. Laliberte and Lanteigne, 146–161.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Castells, Manuel. 1992. Four Asian tigers with a dragon head: A comparative analysis of the state, economy, and society in the Asian Pacific Rim. In State and development in the Asia-Pacific Rim, ed. Richard P. Appelbaum and Jeffrey Henderson, 52–75. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Dickson, Bruce J. 2007. “Pressures for Political Change and Sources of Regime Continuity in China”, (accessed August 2009), p.19.
  6. 6.
    Ding, Xueliang. 1994. The decline of communism in China: Legitimacy crisis, 1977–1989. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Fukuyama, Francis. 2004. State-building- governance and world order in the 21st century, 59. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Gilley, Bruce. 2009. The right to rule- how states win and lose legitimacy, 5. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Gungwu, Wang, and Zheng Yongnian (eds.). 2000. Reform, legitimacy and dilemmas- china’s politics and society. Singapore: World Scientific.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Guo, Baogang. 2006. Political legitimacy in China’s transition. In China’s deep reform- domestic politics in transition, ed. Lowell Dittmer and Guoli Liu, 147–175. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Haggard, Stephan, and Robert R. Kaufman. 1995. The political economy of democratic transitions. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Holbig, Heike. 2009. Ideological reform and political legitimacy in China. In Regime legitimacy in contemporary China, ed. Thomas Heberer and Gunter Schubert, 13–34. London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Huntington, Samuel P. 1967. Political order in changing societies, 93. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Huntington, Samuel. 1991. The third wave- democratization in the late twentieth century, 62–63. Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Laliberte, Andre, and Marc Lanteigne (eds.). 2008. The Chinese party-state in the 21st century- adaptation and the reinvention of legitimacy, 5. London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Levi, Margaret, et al. 2009. Conceptualizing legitimacy, measuring legitimating beliefs. American Behavioural Scientists 53(5): 354–375.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Li, Cheng (ed.). 2008. China’s Changing Political Landscape- Prospects for Democracy. Washington DC: Brookings Institution.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Lipset, Seymour Martin. 1984. Social conflict, legitimacy, and democracy. In Legitimacy and the state, ed. William Connolly, 88–103. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Luehrmann, Laura M. 2003. Facing citizen complaints in China, 1951–1996. Asian Survey 43(5): 845–865.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Ma Jun. 2010. Jingji, shehui bianqian yu guojia chongjian: gaige yilai de zhongguo (Economy, Social Transformation and State Rebuilding: China since the Reform), Gonggong xingzheng pinglun (Public Administration Commentary), no.1.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Minzner, Carl F. 2006. “Xinfang-An Alternative to Chinese Formal Legal Institutions.” Stanford Journal of International Law no. 42:103–179.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Naughton, Barry J., and Dali Yang (eds.). 2004. Holding China together- diversity and national integration in the post-Deng Era, 22. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Przeworski, Adam, et al. 2000. Democracy and development- political institutions and well-being in the world, 1950–1990. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Schedler, Andreas, Larry Diamond, and Marc F. Plattner (eds.). 1999. The self-restraining state- power and accountability in new democracies, 14. Boulder: Lynne Reinner.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Shambaugh, David. 2008. China’s communist party- atrophy and adaptation. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Tsai, Kellee S. 2007. Capitalism without democracy- the private sector in contemporary China. New York: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Weatherley, Robert. 2006. Politics in China since 1949- legitimizing authoritarian rule, 10. London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    White, Gordon. 1993. Riding the Tiger: The politics of economic reform in post-Mao China. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Yang, Dali. 2004. Remaking the Chinese Leviathan, 2. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Journal of Chinese Political Science/Association of Chinese Political Studies 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of ReginaReginaCanada

Personalised recommendations