24 Pages

The Debate on Regime Legitimacy in China: bridging the wide gulf between Western and Chinese scholarship

WithJinghan Zeng

This article identifies continuities, new trends and shifts in emphasis in the Chinese elite debate about political legitimacy by analysing 125 Chinese articles concerning legitimacy published between 2008 and 2012. It reveals a remarkable cleavage between the international perceptions of the Chinese state and the pessimistic views among Chinese intellectuals about the party's ruling. It finds that Chinese scholars often look at Western theories when dealing with the legitimacy conundrum, and rarely look at Chinese philosophy. They focus on ideology much more than Western scholars, and they are more pessimistic about performance legitimacy than the latter. Moreover, this study finds that the legitimacy concerns and policy suggestions of scholars vary significantly depending upon their research locations, institutions and funding sources. This study also finds a distinct rising appeal of social autonomy that runs counter to the dominant official line. Nowadays, value changes, socioeconomic inequality and corruption are considered to be the most perceived threats to legitimacy; ideology, social justice and governance are the leading prescriptions for the party-state. This result is vastly different from the previous study, suggesting a fundamental shift in the legitimacy debate driven by the worsening socioeconomic problems in China.