Chinese Law Prof Blog

Editor: Donald C. Clarke
George Washington University Law School

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Strategic toleration of public protest in China

Here's an interesting game-theoretical analysis of public protest in China. The author, Peter Lorentzen, argues that such protests do not necessarily indicate regime weakness; instead, they are tolerated (in some cases) because they can increase the government's effectiveness. Here's the abstract:

The occurrence of protests in authoritarian countries is often seen as a harbinger of regime collapse. Yet China since the 1990s has seen a significant rise in popular protest while maintaining economic growth and its reform trajectory. Furthermore, the Chinese government has shown its ability to effectively suppress dissent when it chooses to. This paper argues that deliberate toleration of narrow economic protests serves the Chinese government's purposes in two ways. First, it allows the government to identify and defuse discontented groups. Second, it provides a useful signal of local government corruption that can be used to supplement and direct limited administrative monitoring resources. This mechanism has become particularly useful to the government of contemporary China as the processes of decentralization and market reform have made identification and investigation of local corruption more difficult.

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I am a native Chinese. Your blog is quite educational. Protesting in China involves both strategy and tactics for both government and protesters. Local governments in China try various measures to stop protesters exposing their wrongdoings to Beijing and often use police
force to detain those protesters. Ironic is both central and local governments set "protesting" quotas for their subordinates to fill. You lose your job once the protest events go across the line your boss set.

Posted by: Mark | Nov 13, 2007 10:19:51 PM

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