China watchers have predicted that corruption would lead to a crisis for the ruling regime. Instead, the Chinese Communist Party has somehow managed to retain and even strengthen its political legitimacy. This article analyzes corruption not as a crime or a political problem but as a topic of political narratives, thereby revealing the political processes which led to this result. This study, based on interviews and archival data, examines narratives on the topic of corruption produced in the post-Mao era by the ruling regime and political dissidents in their struggle to influence the populace's views on political legitimacy. In the 1980s, disgruntled intellectuals drew upon the traditionalist collective narrative of corruption to teach citizens to blame the leadership and the structure of the government for social problems, essentially rewriting the narratives used to assess and judge the regime. In doing so, they successfully threatened the political authority of the Party-state. However, in the 1990s, China's leaders and the official media revised the story of corruption so that the Party-state battled corruption on behalf of its citizens in order to bring them economic opportunities, rising living standards, and social stability. In these new narratives, the role of the state was no longer that of ideological or moral leadership, but of economic management. Through these narratives of economic management, the regime managed to control the corruption crisis and recapture its political legitimacy, but was also forced to deal with the consequences of this new vision of state-society relations.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
We’re sorry, something doesn't seem to be working properly.
Please try refreshing the page. If that doesn't work, please contact support so we can address the problem.
Abbott, A. (1990). Conceptions of time and events in social science methods. Historical Methods, 23, 140–150.
Agelasto, M. (1996). Cellularism, guanxiwang, and corruption: A microscopic view from within a Chinese educational danwei. Crime, Law & Social Change, 25, 265–288.
Bian, Y., & Logan, J. (1996). Market transition and the persistence of power. American Sociological Review, 61, 739–758.
Calhoun, C. (1994). Neither gods nor emperors: Students and the struggle for democracy in China. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Chan, A., Madsen, R., & Unger, J. (1992). Chen village: Under Mao and Deng. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Chao, K.-C. (1973). We learn from Lei-Feng. China Reconstructs, 22, 27–30.
Chen, K. (1994). Fanfubai bixu fudichouxin (Anti-corruption effort must take drastic measures). Quoted in Tsao and Worthley. Xinhua Wenchai, 1, 24–25.
Deng, X. (1987). Fundamental issues in present-day China. Beijing: Foreign Language Press.
Ding, X. L. (1994). The decline of communism in China. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Fang, L. (1990). Bringing down the Great Wall. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Gardiner, J. A. (1993). Defining corruption. Corruption and reform, 7, 111–124.
Gates, H. (1991). Eating for revenge: Consumption and corruption under economic de-reform. Dialectical Anthropology, 16, 233–249.
Gaylord, M. S., & Levine, P. (1997). The criminalization of official profiteering: Law-making in the People's Republic of China. International Journal of Sociology and Law, 25, 117–134.
Goldman, M. (1981). China's intellectuals: Advise and dissent. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Goldman, M. (1994). Sowing the seeds of democracy in China: Political reform in the Deng Xiaoping era. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Gong, T. (1997). Forms and characteristics of China's corruption in the 1990s: Change with continuity. Communist and Post-Communist Studies, 30, 277–288.
Han, M. (1990). Cries for democracy: Writings and speeches from the 1989 Chinese democracy movement. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Hart, J. (1992). Cracking the code: Narrative and political mobilization in the Greek resistance. Social Science History, 16, 631–668.
Heidenheimer, A. J. (1970). Definitions, concepts and criteria. In A. J. Heidenheimer (Ed.), Political corruption: Readings in comparative analysis. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
Holmes, L. (1993). The end of Communist power: Anti-corruption campaigns and legitimation crisis. New York: Oxford University Press.
Hsu, C. L. (1996). Corruption and morality in the People's Republic of China. Indiana East Asian Working Paper Series, 8, 1–26.
Hsu, C. L. (2000). Creating legitimacy: Developing the institutions of market socialism in the People's Republic of China. Unpublished Ph.D., University of California, San Diego.
Kwong, J. (1997). The political economy of corruption in China. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.
Lancaster, T. D., & Montinola, G. R. (1997). Toward a methodology for the comparative study of political corruption. Crime, Law & Social Change, 27, 185–206.
Levy, R. (1995). Corruption, economic crime and social transformations since the reforms: The debate in China. The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs, 33, 1–25.
Li, M. (1994). Chongfen fahui dan di lingdao hexin zuyong (Making use of the strength of the party). Quoted in Tsao and Worthley 1996. Qiushi, 3, 20–26.
Liu, A. P. L. (1983). The politics of corruption in the People's Republic of China. The American Political Science Review, 77, 602–623.
Liu, B. (1983). People or monsters? In P. Link (Ed.), People or monsters? And other stories and reportage from China after Mao (pp. 11–68). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Liu B., Ming, R., & Gang, X. (1989). “Tell the world” what happened in China and why. New York: Pantheon Books.
Lo, T. W. (1993). Corruption and politics in Hong Kong and China. Philadelphia: Open University Press.
Lui, A. (1979). Corruption in China during the early Ch'ing period: 1644–1660. Hong Kong: Centre of Asian Studies.
Mackerras, C. (1973). Chinese opera after the Cultural Revolution. China Quarterly, 55, 478–510.
Maines, D. (1993). Narrative's moment and sociology's phenomena: Toward a narrative sociology. Sociological Quarterly, 34, 17–38.
Manion, M. (1996). Corruption by design: Bribery in Chinese enterprise licensing. Journal of Law, Economics and Organizations, 12, 167–195.
Ogden, S., Hartford, K., Sullivan, L., & Zweig, D. (1992). China's search for democracy: The student and the mass movement of 1989. New York: M. E. Sharpe, Inc.
Oksenberg, M., Sullivan, L., & Lambert, M. (1990). Beijing spring, 1989. New York: M. E. Sharpe, Inc.
Ricoeur, P. (1991). Life in quest of a narrative. In D. Wood (Ed.), On Paul Ricoeur (pp. 20–33). London: Routledge.
Root, H. (1996). Corruption in China: Has it become systemic? Asian Survey, 36, 741–757.
Schell, O. (1995). Mandate of heaven. New York: Touchstone.
Somers, M. (1992). Narrativity, narrative identity, and social action. Social Science History, 16, 591–630.
Somers, M., & Gibson, G. (1994). Reclaiming the epistemological “other”: Narrative and the social constitution of identity. In C. Calhoun (Ed.), Social theory and the politics of identity (pp. 37–99). Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.
Steinmetz, G. (1992). Reflections on the role of social narratives in working-class formation. Social Science History, 16, 489–516.
Thornton, P. M. (1996). Discerning the public from the private: A lexicon of political corruption during the Nanjing decade. Indiana Asian Working Paper Series, 8, 30–55.
Tsao, K. K., & Worthley, J. A. (1996). China: Administrative corruption-experience in a comparative context. Australian Journal of Public Administration, 55, 22–29.
Wang, J. (1996). High culture fever: Politics, aesthetics, and ideology in Deng's China. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Wank, D. L. (1995). Bureaucratic patronage and private business. In A. G. Walder (Ed.), The waning of the communist state (pp. 153–183). Berkeley: University of California Press.
White, G. (1996). Corruption and the transition from socialism in China. Journal of Law and Society, 23, 149–169.
White, L. T. I. (1988). Changing concepts of corruption in communist China. Issues and Studies, 24, 49–95.
Whyte, M. K., & Parish, W. L. (1984). Urban life in contemporary China. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Williams, R. (1977). Marxism and literature. New York: Oxford University Press.
Yang, M. M. (1994). Gifts, favors, and banquets. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Young, E. (1994). Imagining the ancient regime in the Deng era. In E. J. Perry & J. N. Wasserstrom (Eds.), Popular protest and political culture in modern China (pp. 18–31). Boulder: Westview Press.
About this article
Cite this article
Hsu, C.L. Political Narratives and the Production of Legitimacy: The Case of Corruption in Post-Mao China. Qualitative Sociology 24, 25–54 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1026691329912
- political narratives