Introduction Among Western scholars of China, there seems to be widespread agreement that the Chinese polity is an authoritarian system held together by a strong Party-state.1 There is also agreement that there are fragmenting forces in play. The combination of these two seemingly contradictory forces of authoritarianism and fragmentation was dubbed ‘fragmented authoritarianism’ (FA) in a path-breaking study by Kenneth Lieberthal and Michel Oksenberg from 1988 (Lieberthal and Oksenberg 1988). The concept of FA was further elaborated by David Lampton and, more recently, by Andrew Mertha and Pierre Landry (Lieberthal and Lampton 1992; Lampton 1987; Lampton 2001; Mertha 2009; Mertha 2008; Landry 2012). Events surrounding and following the Tiananmen debacle in 1989 caused the China field to focus on the fragmenting or centrifugal forces in Chinese politics, stimulating a plethora of studies on civil society, new social groups and strata, and Chinese non-governmental developments. Some of these studies were informed by the belief that Chinese political systems would experience a breakdown similar to those that had happened in the Soviet Union. It was believed that by cracking down on the students the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had lost its legitimacy among the Chinese population and it was only a matter of time before it would wither away and disappear. However, the Party did not disappear. In fact through the mid-and late 1990s the Party went through a process of revitalisation, renewal and adaptation. During the first nine years of this century this process was strengthened by the introduction of new cadre regulations and by the orderly and institutionalised transition to a new leadership in 2002. Under the impression of these events, scholars began to call for bringing the Party back into the picture when studying Chinese politics (Brødsgaard and Zheng 2004). In order to denote that the Party and the political system in China were not going away, but were instead displaying an impressive staying power, Andrew Nathan, in a seminal article in Journal of Democracy, suggested that the qualifier to authoritarianism was resilience rather than fragmentation (Nathan 2003). Recently, the concept of resilient authoritarianism has been questioned. In his book on the Party, David Shambaugh argued for its resilience and adaptive

capacity, but he has since changed his view and now finds that the Party is obstructing necessary political reform (Shambaugh 2012). In an article in The China Quarterly, Cheng Li also challenges the concept, arguing that the CCP’s ‘resilient authoritarianism’ is ‘a stagnant system, both conceptually and empirically’. The concept reflects a monolithic conceptualising of China which fails to capture seemingly transformative trends in the Chinese polity. These are three parallel developments and sets of characteristics: (a) weak leaders, strong factions; (b) weak government, strong interest groups; and (c) weak Party, strong country (Li 2012). These reflect the reality that China has become increasingly pluralistic with the arrival of many new socio-political players and a more complicated political decision-making process. Dynamic change is therefore underway, which will lead to democratisation and a loss of power for the Party. In Cheng Li’s assessment of the longer term, China is resilient, not the CCP. In a recent issue of Journal of Democracy, Nathan also argues that China is at the tipping point (Nathan 2013). However, he cautions that fundamental change continues to be unlikely:

Small farmers are unhappy, but they live scattered across the countryside and far from the center of power. Worker unrest has increased, but it focuses on enterprises, not the government. Intellectuals are weak as a class, divided, and unable to spark resistance. Civil society is growing in scale and potential assertiveness, but remains under effective government surveillance and unable to form national linkages. Independent entrepreneurs have ideas and means, and show increasing initiative, but their stake in stability makes them cautious. The broad middle class sees through the regime, but is busy enjoying itself. . . . When it comes to defecting from the existing order, each group seems likely to look at the others and pile up with a hearty ‘After you’.