Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Martin Dimitrov -- Information Management in a Single-Party Authoritarian Regime: Explaining Regime Resilience in China

Thursday, February 3, 2011

6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Joukowksy Forum

"Information Management in a Single-Party Authoritarian Regime:  Explaining Regime Resilience in China," with Martin Dimitrov, Fellow, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Assistant Professor of Government, Dartmouth College, and Research Fellow, East Asian Legal Studies Program, Harvard Law.

All dictatorships face a common problem: due to the fear or punishment, citizens in dictatorships engage in preference falsification, thus making it difficult for dictators to ascertain the level of mass support for the regime and leading to sudden revolutions or coups. However, the resilience of certain types of dictatorships suggests that they have found a formula that allows them to resolve the information problem. In this talk, I will focus on the most long-lived type of dictatorial regime: the single-party communist regime. In particular, I will examine the strategies developed by the Chinese communist regime to resolve the information problem. Regime resilience in China is especially puzzling because China lacks national-level semi-competitive elections, which help alleviate the information problem in hegemonic-party autocracies. I argue that the institution of citizen complaints (renmin xinfang) serves as the key channel through which the Chinese regime ascertains the preferences of the population. By analyzing data on citizen complaints in pre-1989 and post-1989 China, I demonstrate how the Chinese government strengthened the institution of citizen complaints following the near collapse in 1989. I conclude by examining the recent decline in citizen complaints and increase in mass protests and their counterintuitive implications for information management and for regime resilience in China. 

Location: Joukowsky Forum, Watson Institute, 111 Thayer Street.