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The Rise of the Chinese Security State*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 May 2015

Yuhua Wang*
The University of Pennsylvania.
Carl Minzner
Fordham Law School. Email:
Email: (corresponding author).


Over the past two decades, the Chinese domestic security apparatus has expanded dramatically. “Stability maintenance” operations have become a top priority for local Chinese authorities. We argue that this trend goes back to the early 1990s, when central Party authorities adopted new governance models that differed dramatically from those of the 1980s. They increased the bureaucratic rank of public security chiefs within the Party apparatus, expanded the reach of the Party political-legal apparatus into a broader range of governance issues, and altered cadre evaluation standards to increase the sensitivity of local authorities to social unrest. We show that the origin of these changes lies in a policy response to the developments of 1989–1991, namely the Tiananmen democracy movement and the collapse of communist political systems in Eastern Europe. Over the past twenty years, these practices have developed into an extensive stability maintenance apparatus, whereby local governance is increasingly oriented around the need to respond to social unrest, whether through concession or repression. Chinese authorities now appear to be rethinking these developments, but the direction of reform remains unclear.


在过去的 20 多年中, 中国的国内维稳体系经历了大幅的扩展, 维护社会稳定成为地方政府工作的重中之重。我们提出这一趋势源于 90 年代初期党中央采取的一系列有别于 80 年代的治理模式。这一模式提高了公安部门领导在整个官僚体系中的地位, 扩大了党的政法系统对一系列治理领域的影响, 以及将社会稳定纳入到了地方干部考核体制中。我们认为这些变化是政府对 1989 至 1991 年间的事件--即天安门民主运动和东欧共产党政权的倒台--的政策回应。经过 20 多年的发展, 这些政策已经促成了一个庞大的维稳体系。在这一体系中, 地方治理的重心日益围绕着如何应对社会抗争进行, 或是妥协或是镇压。中国政府正在重新考量这一体系, 但改革的方向尚不明朗。

Copyright © The China Quarterly 2015 

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Both authors contributed equally to the research and writing of this article. Yuhua Wang wants to thank Bill Alford for suggestions and Alice Xie, Chenyang Lei and Yichao Cen for providing excellent research assistance. Carl Minzner thanks Xie Yue, Hou Meng and all the organizers and participants at conferences and workshops where this paper was presented for their comments. Both authors want to thank The China Quarterly editors and anonymous reviewers for helpful comments.


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