Democratization and the Middle Class in China: The Middle Class's Attitudes toward Democracy

Article excerpt

Abstract

Do the middle classes in authoritarian, late-developing countries support democratization? Among scholars, there seems no clear consensus on this question. To fill this gap, this article examines the case of the middle class in China, based on data collected from a probability-sample survey. The findings from this study indicate (1) the middle class does not necessarily support democratization in authoritarian developing countries, (2) there is a negative correlation between the middle class's dependence on the state and its support for democracy, and (3) the middle class's perceived social and economic well-being is also negatively associated with its democratic support.

Keywords

Chinese middle class, democratic attitudes, public opinion survey

As Chinese society has become increasingly modernized in the past three decades, the new middle class1 in China has steadily emerged as a salient socioeconomic and sociopolitical force. Facing such phenomenal emergence and expansion of the middle classes in China and other developing countries, political scientists and policy leaders have constantly pondered at least two important questions: Do the middle classes in developing countries support political democratization, when the political systems sanctioned by the states in these countries are nondemocratic? And why do or do not these social classes support democracy and democratization? These questions have a lot to do with predicting the role of the middle class in political change in the developing world as well as with understanding the dynamic relationship between economic modernization and political democratization in developing countries.

Among scholars of the middle class and democratization, however, there seems no clear consensus over these questions. Furthermore, almost none of the early studies on these issues are based on systematic probability samples of middle-class individuals in authoritarian, developing countries, samples that could provide more robust and conclusive findings on the attitudes of the middle class toward democracy and democratization in those countries. To help fill this gap in and contribute to the ongoing exploration of the role of the middle class in the developing world, this article examines the case of the middle class in the most populous developing country, China. Specifically, it attempts to shed some new light on both the level and sources of the middle class's democratic support, based on data collected from a probability sample survey conducted in three Chinese cities in late 2006 and early 2007 (see Survey and Sample, Supplemental Materials at http://prq.sagepub.com/supplemental). It is hoped that this study will not only help to illuminate the orientation of the middle class toward democratization in China but also examine some key propositions from earlier studies of the middle class's role in democratization in other developing countries.

Theories of Middle Class's Democratic Support

There is a large body of literature on the orientation of the middle class toward democracy and democratization (see, also, Literature on Democratization and the Role of the Middle Class in Democratization, Supplemental Materials). Within this general literature, there seem to be two distinct approaches. One can be considered a "unilinear" approach that draws on some aspects of modernization theory.2 This approach emphasizes the relationship between economic modernization and political democratization. It contends that as modernization unfolds in a society, the levels of the individual's income, education, socioeconomic mobility, and freedom valuation markedly increase. All these attributes in turn promote democratization in a nondemocratic society and strengthen the democratic institutions in a democratic society. According to this approach, more importantly, "the rising middle class universally embodies these [attributes]" and serves as the "main thrust of the democratization movement" (Hattori, Funatsu, and Torii 2003, 129-30). …