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  • The China Quarterly, Volume 200
  • December 2009, pp. 995-1012

“Fragmented Authoritarianism 2.0”: Political Pluralization in the Chinese Policy Process*


Traditional analyses of political liberalization in China focus on elections or other facets of democratization. But they cannot account for the fact that although China remains authoritarian, it is nevertheless responsive to the increasingly diverse demands of Chinese society. I argue that the rules of the policy-making process are still captured by the fragmented authoritarianism framework, but that the process has become increasingly pluralized: barriers to entry have been lowered, at least for certain actors (hitherto peripheral officials, non-governmental organizations and the media) identified here as “policy entrepreneurs.” With policy change as the variable of interest, I compare three cases of hydropower policy outcomes. I argue that policy entrepreneurs' ability to frame the issue effectively explains variation in hydropower policy outcomes. I then extend these findings to an unlikely policy area, international trade, specifically, the 2001–06 Sino-EU trade talks over child-resistant lighter safety regulations.

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Sidney Tarrow , Power in Movement: Social Movements and Contentious Politics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998)

Melanie F. Manion , “The electoral connection in the Chinese countryside,” The American Political Science Review, Vol. 90, No. 4 (1996), pp. 736–48

M. Kent Jennings , “Political pluralization in the Chinese countryside,” The American Political Science Review, Vol. 91, No. 2 (1997), pp. 361–72

Ching Kwan Lee , “From the specter of Mao to the spirit of the law: labor insurgency in China,” Theory and Society, Vol. 31, No. 2 (2002), pp. 189228

William Hurst , “Understanding contentious collective action by Chinese laid-off workers: the importance of regional political economy,” Studies in Comparative International Development, Vol. 39, No. 2 (2004), pp. 94120

Arendt Lijphart , “Comparative politics and the comparative method,” The American Political Science Review, No. 65 (1971), pp. 682–93

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