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Disruptions as Opportunities

Governing Chinese Society with Interactive Authoritarianism

Subjects: Asian Studies, China, Political Science, Comparative Politics
Hardcover : 9780472075638, 300 pages, 12 figures, 18 tables, 6 x 9, March 2023
Open Access : 9780472903306, 300 pages, 12 figures, 18 tables, 6 x 9, March 2023
Paperback : 9780472055630, 300 pages, 12 figures, 18 tables, 6 x 9, March 2023

Open access version made available with the support of The Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies (LRCCS)
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How authoritarian states adapt to new phenomena

Table of contents

List of Figures
List of Tables
Chapter 1: Governing the Nascent Civil Society in China: Background and Key players
Chapter 2: Stage I: Authoritarian Tolerance of Civil Society Activities
Chapter 3: Stage II: Differentiation – Outsourcing Responsibility for Governance
Chapter 4: Stage III: Legalization without Institutionalization
Chapter 5: Case I: The Sichuan Earthquakes and the Governance of the Rising CSOs
Chapter 6: Case II: The Dynamic, Decentralized, and Multi-Layered Internet Censorship
Chapter 7: Case III: Internet-facilitated Guerrilla Resistance of the Ride-Sharing Networks
Chapter 8: Conclusion: Governing as an Interactive Authoritarian State
Appendix: Eight Useful Tips of Conducting Fieldwork on China


Disruptions as Opportunities: Governing Chinese Society with Interactive Authoritarianism addresses the long-standing puzzle of why China outlived other one-party authoritarian regimes with particular attention to how the state manages an emerging civil society. Drawing upon over 1,200 survey responses conducted in 126 villages in the Sichuan province, as well as 70 interviews conducted with Civil Society Organization (CSO) leaders and government officials, participant observation, and online research, the book proposes a new theory of interactive authoritarianism to explain how an adaptive authoritarian state manages nascent civil society. Sun argues that when new phenomena and forces are introduced into Chinese society, the Chinese state adopts a three-stage interactive approach toward societal actors: toleration, differentiation, and legalization without institutionalization. Sun looks to three disruptions—earthquakes, internet censorship, and social-media-based guerrilla resistance to the ride-sharing industry—to test his theory about the three-stage interactive authoritarian approach and argues that the Chinese government evolves and consolidates its power in moments of crisis.

Taiyi Sun is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Christopher Newport University.

“In this brilliant and rigorous analysis, Taiyi Sun provides a unified interactive authoritarianism model and masterfully explains why robust and tolerated civil society activities could co-exist with continuous crackdowns on civil society in China. A must-read for anyone studying and interested in China.”
—Cheng Li, Brooking Institution's John L. Thornton China Center

- Cheng Li

“Relying on the rich data and a solid methodological approach, Disruptions as Opportunities advances a unified conceptual framework to understand how an authoritarian state may adapt at times of crises and institutional disruptions that are of different nature.”
—Rongbin Han, University of Georgia

- Rongbin Han

“Much of the civil society literature in China focuses on state-society models as an outcome but does not examine the dynamic process of how the relationship might change over time in reaction to institutional disruptions. Taiyi Sun develops a more holistic framework to explain this dynamic ‘interactive authoritarianism’ process and expands our understanding of social control in authoritarian regimes.”
 —Jessica C. Teets, Middlebury College

- Jessica C. Teets

"The resilience of authoritarian rule in China is among the most time-honored questions that have produced generations of remarkable scholarship. Taiyi Sun has provided another groundbreaking explanation that focuses on the Chinese government’s artful control of a burgeoning civil society. This thought-provoking book will generate reflections and debates in the years to come."
—Yuhua Wang, Harvard University

- Yuhua Wang

"Disruptions as Opportunities is a welcome addition to the existing literature on authoritarian resilience. . . Sun’s book sheds new light on understanding Chinese authoritarianism by providing new empirical evidence, including examples during China’s response to COVID. The book challenges the theories of elitism and institutionalism and provides an alternative framework for analyzing authoritarian regime sustainability and social cohesion in contemporary China."

- Wenfang Tang and Lin Song, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen

"How does a non-democratic, top-down state build flexibility and adaptability into its governance practices? In Disruptions as Opportunities, Taiyi Sun offers a compelling answer with his new theory of interactive authoritarianism. Sun’s theory is based on an impressive wealth of rigorously analysed empirical data, and the resulting conceptual framework has the potential to be of great use for researchers studying state–society relations in China."

- Carolyn L. Hsu, Colgate University

"A particularly impressive feature of the book is its use of multiple methods and
datasets, ranging from more traditional ones, such as ethnography, survey, and interviews, to some innovative ones, such as field experiments and autoethnography (running
public accounts on WeChat)."

- The Developing Economies

Listen: Author Interview on the "With Good Reason" podcast | September 23, 2022