“Performance Legitimacy” and China’s Political Adaptation Strategy

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. 1.

    Some scholars do not prefer this concept, e.g., Bruce Gilley argues that as legitimacy is “a particular type of political support that is grounded in common good or shared moral evaluations,” that concepts like performance legitimacy “are either oxymorons or redundant.”[8]

  2. 2.

    For example, as Huntington argued in The Third Wave- Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century [14], a country with per capita GDP $1000–3000 is probably at a threshold point of democratization; but China has already passed this threshold without any sign of democratization. In terms of this “economic threshold” for democracy, also see, Li [17]; Haggard and Kaufman [11]; Przeworski et al [23].

  3. 3.

    http://www.chinanews.com.cn/gn/news/2008/12-04/1472949.shtml (accessed July 2010)

  4. 4.

    http://www.people.com.cn/GB/40531/40746/2994977.html (accessed August 2009)

  5. 5.

    Fukuyama, 2006, Foreword to Huntington [13].

  6. 6.

    But this does not mean that China cannot accept modern concepts like liberty and democracy. Taiwan’s democracy is a successful example in a typical Chinese community.

  7. 7.

    Baogang Guo provided a very comprehensive description of this: “[t]he Chinese cognitive pattern of political legitimacy can be described as follows: a ruler, who has the mandate from heaven, possesses the quality of virtue, shows respect to his subjects, follows the rules of the ancestors, and tries to win the hearts and minds of the people, will be considered a just and legitimate one. A just ruler will strengthen his legitimacy by promoting policies that will benefit the people, not himself, by ensuring relatively equal distribution of these benefits, and by allowing the people to do what they do the best. This unique cognitive model has influenced every Chinese government and its rulers throughout history. By carefully observing these norms, a ruler, feudal or modern, can be assured of public support and accepted as legitimate.” ([10], p.154).

  8. 8.

    See, http://www.wefweb.com/news/200994/0819393247.shtml (accessed April 2010).

  9. 9.

    http://news.eastday.com/china/zh2red/zfgzbg/ (accessed April 2010)

  10. 10.

    http://www.chbook.com.cn/leadbbs/Announce/announce.asp?BoardID=1005&ID=4431&ac=pre&rd=69&r=89&p=51&q=1 (accessed Oct. 2009)

  11. 11.

    http://news.sohu.com/20090712/n265159357.shtml (accessed August 2009)

  12. 12.

    See, http://www.kouyi.org/conference/1176.html accessed April 2010

  13. 13.

    http://www.tianya.cn/publicforum/content/news/1/158942.shtml (accessed April 2010).

  14. 14.

    http://news.sina.com.cn/c/2010-04-19/054320101828.shtml (accessed April 2010).

References

  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.

  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”, http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~asiactr/Archive%20Files/Dickson_RuleAndReformInTheGiants_Harvard_2007.pdf (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.

    Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

  21. 21.

    Minzner, Carl F. 2006. “Xinfang-An Alternative to Chinese Formal Legal Institutions.” Stanford Journal of International Law no. 42:103–179.

  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 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Yuchao Zhu.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Zhu, Y. “Performance Legitimacy” and China’s Political Adaptation Strategy. J OF CHIN POLIT SCI 16, 123–140 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11366-011-9140-8

Download citation

Keywords

  • Legitimacy
  • Governance
  • Adaptation
  • Accountability
  • Path-dependence