Podcast: The Dictator’s Dilemma: The Chinese Communist Party’s Strategy for Survival

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Episode Guests
  • Elizabeth C. Economy
    Senior Fellow for China Studies

Show Notes

Are Chinese citizens unhappy with their government? Media coverage of corruption, pollution, and censorship might lead outsiders to believe that they are. But on this week’s Asia Unbound podcast, Bruce Dickson, professor of political science and international affairs and director of the Sigur Center for Asian Studies at George Washington University, offers evidence to the contrary. In 2010 and 2014, in collaboration with Chinese scholars, Dickson conducted two broad public opinion surveys of thousands of Chinese urbanites that culminated in his new book, The Dictator’s Dilemma: The Chinese Communist Party’s Strategy for Survival. What he found will likely surprise many:

  • Popular support for the Chinese Communist Party is high across the board in his samples regardless of demographics;
  • Rising incomes buoy optimism for China’s future even in the face of declining GDP growth;
  • Most surveyed citizens are blasé about censorship.

Dickson also finds little real evidence for the “revolution of rising expectations”—the idea that average Chinese citizens will gradually demand more accountability and greater civil liberties as standards of living rise. The takeaway? Barring any major new obstacles, do not expect significant evolution in the Chinese system in the near future. Still, Dickson warns that the Chinese government must walk a fine line in its efforts to maintain its popularity; it must remain careful not to overuse its repressive tools and turn supporters into enemies. Listen below to hear more findings from Dickson’s fascinating new book about the real popular opinions of Chinese citizens.

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