Shaking up and making up China: how the party-state compromises and creates ontological security for its subjects
A growing chorus of observers has warned of threats to regime stability in China in recent years. In spite of these concerns, the party-state’s grip on power in many respects appears as strong today as at any time since 1989, making it a remarkable outlier in a shrinking pool of long-surviving authoritarian regimes. This article addresses the debate over the resilience of the Chinese party-state by suggesting that one source of this resilience lies in the regime’s distinct functions in citizens’ experience of ontological security. Ontological security refers to a basic need of individuals for a sense of continuity and order in events. The main argument is that China’s party-state has developed a mode of rule that both compromises and creates ontological security for its citizens. On one level, the party-state undermines individuals’ ontological security. The regime has engineered profound transformations of Chinese society, producing conditions that compromise its subjects’ ontological security. At the same time, the party-state provides individuals with resources to buttress their ontological security. Official discourses function as anchors that assist individuals in this pursuit. A survey of research on Chinese politics supports these conclusions.
KeywordsChina Ontological security Authoritarianism Regime stability Political transition
- Andreas, Joel. 2009. Rise of the Red Engineers: The Cultural Revolution and the Origins of China’s New Class. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
- Anonymous. 2014. ‘China Focus: Hukou Reforms to Help 100 Mln Chinese’, 30 July, available at http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2014-07/30/c_133520576.htm. Accessed 6 Dec, 2017.
- Bell, Daniel A. 2010. China’s New Confucianism: Politics and Everyday Life in a Changing Society. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
- Billioud, Sébastien. 2010. Carrying the Confucian Torch to the Masses: The Challenge of Structuring the Confucian Revival in the People’s Republic of China. Oriens Extremus 49: 201–224.Google Scholar
- Billioud, Sébastien, and Christopher Storey. 2008. Confucianism, “Cultural Tradition” and Official Discourses in China at the Start of the New Century. China Perspectives 3 (71): 50–65.Google Scholar
- Billioud, Sébastien, and Joël Thoraval. 2009. The Contemporary Revival of Confucianism: Lijiao: The Return of Ceremonies Honouring Confucius in Mainland China. China Perspectives 4 (80): 82–100.Google Scholar
- Brady, Anne-Marie (ed.). 2012a. China’s Thought Management. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Brady, Anne-Marie. 2012b. State Confucianism, Chineseness, and Tradition in CCP Propaganda. In China’s Thought Management, ed. Anne-Marie Brady, 57–75. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Brown, Kerry. 2012. ‘The Communist Party of China and Ideology’. China: An International Journal 10(2): 52–68.Google Scholar
- Chang, Maria Hsia, and Amy Joseph. 2001. Return of the Dragon: China’s Wounded Nationalism. Boulder: Westview Press.Google Scholar
- Chen, Feng. 1995. Theoretical Adjustments: “The Practice Criterion” and “The Criterion of Productive Forces”. In Economic Transition and Political Legitimacy in Post-Mao China: Ideology and Reform, ed. Feng Chen, and Economic Transition, 35–64. Albany: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
- Deng, Xiaoping (1984) ‘Building a Socialism with a Specifically Chinese Character’. Presented at the Council of Sino-Japanese Non-Governmental Persons, Beijing, China, 30 June.Google Scholar
- Dutournier, Guillaume, and Zhe Ji. 2009. Social Experimentation and “popular Confucianism”: The Case of the Lujiang Cultural Education Centre. China Perspectives 4 (80): 67–81.Google Scholar
- Elliott, Mark. 2012. ‘The Historical Vision of the Prosperous Age (Shengshi)’. China Heritage Quarterly 29(March).Google Scholar
- Giddens, Anthony. 1991. Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
- Guo, Yingjie. 2003. Cultural Nationalism in Contemporary China: The Search for National Identity Under Reform. New York: Routledge Curzon.Google Scholar
- Hu, Jun. 2007. ‘Guilai’ zuojia de kunan xushi yu ziwo rentong’ [‘Narration of Misery and Self-identification of the Writers Resuming Writing after Recovering from the Anti-Rightists Movement and the Great Cultural Revolution’]. Journal of Zhuzhou Normal Advanced Technical College 12 (6): 22–25.Google Scholar
- Huang, Zhigang. 2001. ‘Chinese Scar Literature on the Cultural Revolution as Testimony’. PhD, Carleton University, Canada.Google Scholar
- Hughes, Christopher. 2006. Chinese Nationalism in a Global Era. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Ji, Fengyuan. 2012. Linguistic Engineering in Hu Jintao’s China. In China’s Thought Management, ed. Anne-Marie Brady, 90–103. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Johnson, Ian. 2013. ‘China’s Great Uprooting: Moving 250 Million Into Cities’, New York Times, 15 June, sec. World/Asia Pacific, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/16/world/asia/chinas-great-uprooting-moving-250-million-into-cities.html. Accessed 6 Dec, 2017.
- Johnson, Ian. 2014. ‘China Releases Plan to Incorporate Farmers Into Cities’, New York Times, 17 March, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/18/world/asia/china-releases-plan-to-integrate-farmers-in-cities.html. Accessed 6 Dec, 2017.
- Kinnvall, Catarina. 2006. Globalization and Religious Nationalism in India: The Search for Ontological Security. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Kluver, Alan R. 1996. Legitimating the Chinese Economic Reforms: A Rhetoric of Myth and Orthodoxy. Albany: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
- Lee, Hong Yung. 1978. The Politics of the Chinese Cultural Revolution: A Case Study. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
- Lemos, Gerard. 2012a. The End of the Chinese Dream: Why Chinese People Fear the Future. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
- Lemos, Gerard. 2012b. ‘What Keeps the Chinese Up at Night’, New York Times, 10 September, A25, New York edition.Google Scholar
- Lieberthal, Kenneth. 2010. Reflections on the Evolution of the China Field in Political Science. In Contemporary Chinese Politics: New Sources, Methods, and Field Strategies, ed. Allen Carlson, Mary E. Gallagher, Kenneth Lieberthal, and Melanie Manion, 266–277. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Mao, Tse-Tung. 2001. Introducing A Co-Operative (1958). In Selected Readings from the Works, ed. Tse-Tung Mao. Honolulu: University Press of the Pacific.Google Scholar
- McGregor, Richard. 2012. The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers, reprint. New York: Harper Perennial.Google Scholar
- Naughton, Barry, and Kellee S. Tsai (eds.). 2015. State Capitalism, Institutional Adaptation, and the Chinese Miracle. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Pei, Minxin. 2014. The Chinese Political Order: Resilience or Decay? Modern China Studies 20 (1): 1–27.Google Scholar
- Plänkers, Tomas, and John Hart. 2014. Landscapes of the Chinese Soul: The Enduring Presence of the Cultural Revolution. London: Karnac Books.Google Scholar
- Scott, James C. 1999. Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
- Shambaugh, David. 2008. China’s Communist Party: Atrophy and Adaptation. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
- Shambaugh, David. 2015. ‘The Coming Chinese Crackup’, Wall Street Journal, 6 March, available at http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-coming-chinese-crack-up-1425659198. Accessed 6 Dec, 2017.
- Shaw, Victor N. 1996. Social Control in China: A Study of Chinese Work Units. Westport: Praeger.Google Scholar
- Shen, Xingpei, and Yu. Jiang. 2012. ‘Chuyi dangdai xiaoshuo jianzheng xushi - yi ‘Wenge’ ticai xiaoshuo wei duixiang de yanjiu’ [‘A Brief Discussion on Witness Narrative Tradition of Contemporary Fiction’]. Journal of Fujian Normal University 3: 75–81.Google Scholar
- Steele, Brent J. 2008. Ontological Security in International Relations: Self-Identity and the IR State. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Tsai, Kellee S. 2007. Capitalism without Democracy: The Private Sector in Contemporary China, 1st ed. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
- Ulfelder, Jay. 2011. ‘Crystal Clear: Yes, Rows of Numbers Can Help Predict Revolutions. You Just Have to Know Where to Look’, Foreign Policy, 22 June, available at https://foreignpolicy.com/2011/06/22/crystal-clear/. Accessed 6 Dec, 2017.
- Vickers, Edward. 2009. Selling “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”: “Thought and Politics” and the Legitimisation of China’s Developmental Strategy. International Journal of Educational Development, Education and Development in Contemporary China 29 (5): 523–531.Google Scholar
- Weatherley, Robert D., and Ariane Rosen. 2013. Fanning the Flames of Popular Nationalism: The Debate in China over the Burning of the Old Summer Palace. Asian Perspective 37 (1): 53–76.Google Scholar
- Zheng, Yongnian. 1999. Discovering Chinese Nationalism in China: Modernization, Identity, and International Relations. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Zheng, Yongnian. 2009. The Chinese Communist Party as Organizational Emperor: Culture, Reproduction, and Transformation. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.Google Scholar