Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 04/2010

In Search of Legitimacy in Post-revolutionary China: Bringing Ideology and Governance Back In

Heike Holbig, Bruce Gilley

March 2010

German Institute of Global and Area Studies


The contemporary politics of China reflect an ongoing effort by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to claim the right to rule in light of the consequences of economic development, international pressures, and historical change. China stands out within the Asian region for the success the regime has achieved in this effort. By focusing on the changes in China’s elite discourse during the reform period and particularly during the last decade, this paper aims to elaborate on the relative importance of various sources of legitimacy as they shift over time, as well as on their inherent dilemmas and limitations. There is evidence of an agile, responsive, and creative party effort to relegitimate the postrevolutionary regime through economic performance, nationalism, ideology, culture, governance, and democracy. At the same time, the paper identifies a clear shift in emphasis from an earlier economic-nationalistic approach to a more ideological-institutional approach.