Academic journal article China: An International Journal

Mass Political Interest in Urban China: An Empirical Study

Academic journal article China: An International Journal

Mass Political Interest in Urban China: An Empirical Study

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Political and economic developments in China seem to continue to defy the conventional wisdom that economic growth fosters democracy. The Chinese communist regime has successfully survived the worldwide wave of democratisation, including the recent democratic changes in the Arab world. What sustains the stability of the Chinese political regime appears to be the country's rapid economic growth over the past three decades as it catapults China to becoming the second-largest economy in the world. In the reform era, the Communist Party of China (CPC) successfully turned a political system of "politics takes command" during the Cultural Revolution into a system of "economics takes command". Deng Xiaoping once famously said that "economic development is the real hard truth" (fazhan shi yingdaoli), implying that so long as the economy performs well, the CPC regime will remain stable, especially since the primary concern of the Chinese people is their personal economic conditions. Indeed, the political legitimacy of the CPC today is said to be largely built upon China's impressive economic performance in the last three decades. (1) It appears that the Chinese government has successfully diverted the Chinese people's attention from politics to personal economic betterment since the 1989 Tiananmen events and that the Chinese have generally become politically apathetic. In addition, Chinese people traditionally exercise restraint in discussing national affairs or politics (motan guoshi).

This article attempts to explore whether the Chinese people are still interested in politics and state affairs in an increasingly materialistic society; and more importantly, what the demographic profiles of these people who tend to be more interested in Chinese politics are. This study carries both theoretical as well as practical implications. The importance of political interest as psychological involvement in politics and public affairs has been well observed and documented by Western scholarship. (2) Psychological involvement in politics and public affairs is often believed to be a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for active political participation. For instance, as Sidney Verba and his associates argue in their seminal study of political participation in seven nations, "everything else being equal, those individuals who possess greater motivation (i.e., political interest) ... for political activity will be more active" and given that other conditions are equal, those who are interested in politics "out-participate" those who are apathetic. (3) Similar findings have also been reported by scholars studying the former Soviet Union. (4) For example, in their empirical study of mass political participation in the former USSR, Bahry and Silver found that those who were more interested in politics were more likely to engage in conventional as well as unconventional political activities. (5) Therefore, the theoretical implication is that such a linkage between the level of political interest and political participation may also exist in China, a transitional society. One practical implication is that a high level of political interest among Chinese citizens may indicate a potential for their active participation in conventional and/or unconventional political activities. More importantly, given the intricate relationship between the level of political interest or psychological involvement in politics and the likelihood of political participation, it becomes important that we understand which demographic profiles in Chinese society are more likely to have higher levels of political interest and what factors may lead people to be psychologically involved in politics. We are especially interested in finding out whether the more politically interested people tend to be regime supporters or people who are dissatisfied with government policy performance and thus desire change. If it is the former, the Chinese government should not have any worry since it is highly probable that regime supporters will participate in regime-supporting political activities and not engage in unconventional anti-regime political activities. …

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