How much public support does the Chinese government enjoy? Why do Chinese citizens support or not support the government, and how does Chinese citizens’ support or lack of support for the government influence their political behavior and affect sociopolitical stability? On February 4, the Asia Program hosted a book launch for the recently released Popular Political Support in Urban China, jointly published by the Wilson Center Press and Stanford University Press. The author, Jie Chen, a former Wilson Center fellow, discussed the above three main themes, which are the core of his book’s argument.

To address the first theme—how much popular support the current Chinese government enjoys—Chen made a distinction between “diffuse support” for the political regime and “specific support” for the incumbent authorities. On the basis of three surveys of Beijing residents conducted in 1995, 1997 and 1999, Chen argued that diffuse support for the current political system—based on attitudes toward institutions and values—remained strong among Beijing residents, although it steadily declined during this period. On the other hand, specific support for current political authorities is much weaker, with many citizens evaluating the authorities’ performance as mediocre.

To address the second theme of why Chinese citizens do or do not support the government, Chen explored three factors—sociodemographic attributes, high-politics orientations (a set of citizens’ attitudes and values), and low-politics orientations (personal-life satisfaction and views of local policies). According to him, support tended to be strong among men and those who are older, less-educated, and have high (self-assessed) economic status, in addition to Party members and government officials. Those who expressed strong nationalist feelings and preference for stability were also more supportive of the regime, while those who strongly believed in democratic values tended to be less supportive.

As for the third theme—impact of political support on citizens’ political behaviors—Chen found that regime supporters tended to express their support through participation in local elections, while those who were dissatisfied with incumbent policy performance were more likely to vent their dissatisfaction by contacting government officials.
Because very few survey-based empirical studies have ever investigated political support in China, Chen’s book is expected to stimulate more theoretical debate and empirical studies on the controversial issue of whether a non-democratic regime like China can enjoy popular political support.

To read more about this book or to place an order, please visit the Woodrow Wilson Center Press web page.