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Journal of Democracy: China at the Tipping Point?

Author: Andrew J. Nathan
January 29, 2013


"The expectation of dramatic change persists. The very anticipation of such change, even if it is unfounded, imparts a particular type of "meta-instability" to the Chinese system today."

The consensus is stronger than at any time since the 1989 Tiananmen crisis that the resilience of the authoritarian regime in the People's Republic of China (PRC) is approaching its limits. To be sure, this feeling in part reflects the fevered atmosphere that surrounded the PRC's onceper-decade leadership succession at the Eighteenth Party Congress of November 2012. But according to some of the best-informed observers, including the contributors to this symposium, deep changes have been taking place that will eventually have major consequences.

Regime transitions belong to that paradoxical class of events which are inevitable but not predictable. Other examples are bank runs, currency inflations, strikes, migrations, riots, and revolutions. In retrospect, such events are explainable, even overdetermined. In prospect, however, their timing and character are impossible to anticipate. Such events seem to come closer and closer but do not occur, even when all the conditions are ripe—until suddenly they do.

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