Publications

    Disciplining of a Society: Social Disciplining and Civilizing Processes in Contemporary China

    Thomas Heberer, August 2020

    In this paper, we specifically focus on the social disciplining process in China since 2012, i.e., in the Xi Jinping era, although we also briefly touch upon historical aspects of disciplining (Confucianism, Legalism, New Life Movement” in the 1930s political campaigns in the Mao era, etc.). The approach adopted in this paper is to conduct an analysis of the disciplining/civilizing top-down project of the state.
     
    We argue that the function of the current Chinese state as a disciplining and civilizing entity is the connecting link tying policies such as the state’s morality policies, its anti-corruption drive or the so-called “social credit system” together under a specific governance logic: to discipline and civilize society in order to prepare the people to become modernized. In fact, modernization and modernity encompass not only a process of economic and political-administrative modernizing but concurrently one related to the organization of society in general and the disciplining of this society and its individuals to create people with “modernized” minds in particular.
     
    Our principal research questions in this paper are twofold: (1) How should disciplining and civilizing processes in general and in contemporary China in particular be understood? (2) What kind of policies and tools does the Chinese state use to pursue and implement its disciplining objectives?
     

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    A Turbulent Decade: The Changes in Chinese Popular Attitudes toward Democracy

    Yinxian Zhang, August 2020 

    In light of the increasingly aggressive policies and rhetoric of the Chinese government, many came to believe that China may pose a severe threat to democracy and the international order. However, less attention has been paid to Chinese popular attitudes toward democracy and authoritarianism. How does the Chinese public think of democracy in the changing domestic and international environment?

     

    This paper uses a novel data set of Chinese social media posts generated between 2009 and 2017 and investigates the changes in popular attitudes toward democracy in the past decade. Results show that online discussion around democracy has decreased and voices questioning democracy have become pronounced since 2013. While tightened state control is a critical factor shaping popular attitudes, this paper demonstrates that people’s increasing exposure to two types of foreign information has also played into this trend. These information lead to a perception of dissatisfying performance of other countries and an awareness of racial attitudes of the West. Lastly, increasing doubts about democracy are not necessarily translated into a strong authoritarian legitimacy. Instead, online discussion presents a sense of ambivalence toward the two models, and the Chinese regime has continued to face a predicament of legitimacy.

     

    Cunningham, Edward, and Phillip Jordan. 2020. “Our Path to “New Normal” in Employment? Sobering Clues from China and Recovery Scores for U.S. Industry.” Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. Read the full report Abstract

    Edward Cunningham and Philip Jordan, July 2020 

    The US National jobs reports for May and June exceeded expectations, and for many, this signaled that April was the true peak of American job losses and real recovery may be underway. Yet mounting evidence suggests that a job recovery is a long way off and that many jobs may not return.

    Part of the analytic disconnect stems from the fact that the global pandemic is a novel challenge for policymakers and analysts. We lack current, useful benchmarks for estimating the damage to the labor market, for estimating what recovery would look like, and for measuring an eventual recovery in jobs. Given this paucity of models, one place to look for patterns of potential recovery – particularly relating to consumption and mobility – is China.

    The Chinese economy is driven largely by consumption, urban job creation is driven by small and medium-sized companies, and China is several months ahead of the US in dealing with the pandemic’s economic and labor impact. An analysis of China’s experience may, therefore, offer important clues about our recovery here at home, and inform new models of thinking about American job recovery.

    Understanding CCP Resilience: Surveying Chinese Public Opinion Through Time
    Cunningham, Edward, Tony Saich, and Jessie Turiel. 2020. Understanding CCP Resilience: Surveying Chinese Public Opinion Through Time. Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. Read the full report Abstract

    Edward Cunningham, Tony Saich, and Jessie Turiel, July 2020

    This policy brief reviews the findings of the longest-running independent effort to track Chinese citizen satisfaction of government performance. China today is the world’s second largest economy and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has ruled for some seventy years. Yet long-term, publicly-available, and nationally-representative surveys in mainland China are so rare that it is difficult to know how ordinary Chinese citizens feel about their government.

    We find that first, since the start of the survey in 2003, Chinese citizen satisfaction with government has increased virtually across the board. From the impact of broad national policies to the conduct of local town officials, Chinese citizens rate the government as more capable and effective than ever before. Interestingly, more marginalized groups in poorer, inland regions are actually comparatively more likely to report increases in satisfaction. Second, the attitudes of Chinese citizens appear to respond (both positively and negatively) to real changes in their material well-being, which suggests that support could be undermined by the twin challenges of declining economic growth and a deteriorating natural environment.

    While the CCP is seemingly under no imminent threat of popular upheaval, it cannot take the support of its people for granted. Although state censorship and propaganda are widespread, our survey reveals that citizen perceptions of governmental performance respond most to real, measurable changes in individuals’ material well-being. For government leaders, this is a double-edged sword, as citizens who have grown accustomed to increases in living standards will expect such improvements to continue, and citizens who praise government officials for effective policies may indeed blame them when such policy failures affect them or their family members directly. While our survey reinforces narratives of CCP resilience, our data also point to specific areas in which citizen satisfaction could decline in today’s era of slowing economic growth and continued environmental degradation.

    China's Most Generous: Examining Trends in Contemporary Chinese Philanthropy

    Edward Cunningham and Yunxin Li, March 2020 

    This annual report highlights leading results from the most recent data analysis of the Harvard Kennedy School Ash Center’s China Philanthropy Project, capturing over one-quarter of estimated national giving in China. We focus on elite giving by building an annual database of the top 100 individual donors, top 100 donors from corporations and other organizations, and also top university recipients of philanthropic giving.

    In 2018, such Chinese giving:

    • was dominated by large organizations (most commonly corporations) rather than individuals,  
    • supported in large part central government policy priorities in the area of poverty alleviation,
    • revealed an intriguing new philanthropy-driven educational model in the country, and
    • remained fairly local in scope.

    Read the report in Chinese 

    Malcolm McPherson, March 2020 

    This paper examines how China can improve transboundary resource management within the Greater Mekong Basin (GMB) through its participation in the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC). Such improvement would ensure the efficient management and equitable development of the basin’s natural resources and ecosystems.

    Finding Allies and Making Revolution

    Tony Saich, Brill, February 2020 

    What does a Dutchman have to do with the rise of the Chinese Communist Party? Finding Allies and Making Revolution by Tony Saich reveals how Henk Sneevliet (alias Maring), arriving as Lenin’s choice for China work, provided the communists with two of their most enduring legacies: the idea of a Leninist party and the tactic of the united front. Sneevliet strived to instill discipline and structure for the left-leaning intellectuals searching for a solution to China’s humiliation. He was not an easy man and clashed with the Chinese comrades and his masters in Moscow. This new analysis is based on Sneevliet’s diaries and reports, together with contemporary materials from key Chinese figures, and important documents held in the Comintern’s China archive.

    Watch a video introduction to the book 

    William H. Overholt, December 2019

    This is an extensively edited, updated and expanded text of a lecture given for the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at Harvard Kennedy School on October 31, 2019. From the origination of “one country, two systems” in 1979 to today, this paper analyzes the history of the unique relationship between Hong Kong, Beijing, and the world.

    Playing by the Informal Rules
    Li, Yao. 2018. Playing by the Informal Rules. Cambridge University Press. Visit Publisher's Site Abstract

    Yao Li, Cambridge University Press, November 2018  

    Growing protests in non-democratic countries are often seen as signals of regime decline. China, however, has remained stable amid surging protests. Playing by the Informal Rules highlights the importance of informal norms in structuring state-protester interactions, mitigating conflict, and explaining regime resilience. Drawing on a nationwide dataset of protest and multi-sited ethnographic research, this book presents a bird's-eye view of Chinese contentious politics and illustrates the uneven application of informal norms across regions, social groups, and time. Through examinations of protests and their distinct implications for regime stability, Li offers a novel theoretical framework suitable for monitoring the trajectory of political contention in China and beyond. Overall, this study sheds new light on political mobilization and authoritarian resilience and provides fresh perspectives on power, rules, legitimacy, and resistance in modern societies.

     

    Tony Saich, August 2017

    This analysis argues that the period of easy reforms in China has ended, and the time of difficult reforms that touch core political interests has begun. The resulting challenges facing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) general secretary Xi Jinping when he is confirmed for another five-year-term span political, economic, and international spheres. This leadership must both maintain a domestic focus to strengthen economic growth and avoid the “middle-income trap,” while also engaging in a host of regional and global actions to cement China’s position on the world stage.

    Arthur N. Holcombe, June 2017

    In this paper Holcombe discusses lessons from successful poverty alleviation in Tibetan areas of China during 1998–2016. In the period between 1978 and 2015, the World Bank estimates that over 700 million people have been raised out of poverty based on a poverty line of $1.50 per capita. It also estimates that about 48 percent of residual poverty in China is located in ethnic minority areas where top-down macroeconomic policies to reduce poverty have been least effective and where strategies to target poor ethnic minority households with additional financial, technical, and other support were not successful in overcom- ing cultural and other barriers to greater income and food security.

    Anthony Saich & Paula D. Johnson, May 2017

    Values and Vision: Perspectives on Philanthropy in 21st Century China is an exploratory study of philanthropic giving among China’s very wealthy citizens. Recognizing the increasing number of successful entrepreneurs engaged in philanthropic activity in China, the study explores the economic and policy contexts in which this philanthropy is evolving; the philanthropic motivations, aspirations and priorities of some of the country’s most engaged philanthropists; and the challenges and opportunities for increasing philanthropic engagement and impact in China.

    Chinese (traditional) translation available here

    Chinese (simplified) translation available here 

    Incentivized Development in China: Leaders, Governance, and Growth in China's Counties

    David J. Bulman, Cambridge University Press, 2016

    China's economy, as a whole, has developed rapidly over the past 35 years, and yet its richest county is over 100 times richer in per capita terms than its poorest county. To explain this vast variation in development, David J. Bulman investigates the political foundations of local economic growth in China, focusing on the institutional and economic roles of county-level leaders and the career incentives that shape their behaviour. Through a close examination of six counties complemented by unique nation-wide data, he presents and explores two related questions: what is the role of County Party Secretaries in determining local governance and growth outcomes? And why do County Party Secretaries emphasize particular developmental priorities? Suitable for scholars of political economy, development economics, and comparative politics, this original study analyzes the relationship between political institutions, local governance, and leadership roles within Chinese government to explain the growing divergence in economic development between counties.

    John Chung-En Liu, June 2016 

    China is in the process to establish its national cap and trade program to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Besides the top-tier market design (cap-setting, auction rules, etc.), Chinese policymakers need to pay attention to how the new carbon market embed in the larger social contexts.This brief highlights that the Chinese government needs to engage seriously with three less-concerned actors—the carbons, the business, and the marginalized—to realize the full potential of the carbon market.

    David J. Bulman, April 2016 

    Meritocratic promotions based on local economic achievements have enabled the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to achieve not only economic growth, but also improvements in local governance, as local governments have implemented institutional reforms in pursuit of GDP growth. However, not all regions of the country have adopted GDP growth as the key priority; those that have instead prioritized social stability have experienced not only slower growth, but also worse local governance outcomes. These findings have important implications for the adaptability and resilience of the CCP.

    Kyle A. Jaros, April 2016 

    Amid booming urban growth in China, leaders have weighed the goal of building globally competitive metropolises against concerns about sustainable and inclusive development. This brief looks at the experience of similar Chinese provinces that have pursued different spatial development models, highlighting the hard choices policymakers face and the political conflicts that unfold.

    From time to time, the attention of the media in the United States and around world turns to China’s National People’s Congress (NPC), typically around the time the NPC meets in March.  This paper is intended to provide an overview of the NPC's role in China's governmental hierarchy, its functions, and its membership.
    Governance and Politics of China
    Saich, Tony. 2015. Governance and Politics of China . Palgrave Macmillan. Visit Publisher's Site Abstract
    This systematically revised fourth edition of the leading text on Chinese politics covers the major changes under Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang and their predecessors, and the recent attempts to restore Chinese Communist Party prestige and strengthen the role of the market in economic reforms whilst managing urbanization and addressing corruption.
    Political Governance In China
    Saich, Anthony J. 2015. Political Governance In China . Edward Elgar Publishing. Visit Publisher's Site Abstract
    Including key research articles from specialists in the field, this volume provides an introduction and critical insights into the most important debates surrounding the governance of contemporary China. The material will enable readers to understand how China is ruled, how participation and protest are regulated by the authorities, and the relationship between the Central state and its local agencies. Spanning the most important areas of the subject, the chosen articles explore the study of Chinese politics, the nature of the Chinese political system, the policy-making process, the nature of the local state, participation and protest, and authoritarian resilience or democratization. Professor Saich’s collection brings together essential reading for students of China, those who are interested in comparative politics, and the general reader who wants a coherent introduction about how China is ruled.

    Tony Saich, December, 2014

    A recent survey asks citizens from 30 countries for their views on 10 influential national leaders who have a global impact (see Appendix). There are many rich findings among the data. However, two general trends stand out. The first is that the responses are influenced by geopolitics. Differences between nations and national leaders are clearly reflected in the attitudes of their own citizens. Thus, it is plain that the tensions between China and Japan result in very poor evaluations of China and its leader by Japanese citizens and vice versa. Second, there is a correlation in responses between the nature of the political system and citizen opinions of their own nation’s leader. On the whole, in multiparty systems or genuine two-party systems such as in Europe and the U.S., citizens are more critical of their national leaders and policies than is the case in those nations where politics is less contested.

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