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Populist Authoritarianism: Chinese Political Culture and Regime Sustainability, Wenfang Tang

Reviewed by Daniel C. Lynch



Wenfang Tang perceives a core paradox in contemporary China: the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) state is profoundly authoritarian, and yet public opinion surveys suggest the population generally supports it. The public also expresses a surprisingly high degree of political trust for a country with such a strongly repressive political system. Tang contends that the political culture reflected in surveys is a critical factor that explains the CCP state's durability despite widespread expectations in the decade after the Tiananmen uprising (1989) that communist authoritarianism would collapse as a consequence of economic and communications development. Analyzing a large number of surveys from the early 1990s through the mid-2010s, Tang probes these paradoxes, aiming to arrive at a comprehensive explanation of how the “populist authoritarian” political culture emerged and exerts its effects.

Tang is more successful in demonstrating the operations of the culture—its expression in politics—than he is in tracing its origins. Although some readers will take issue with the argument that individual beliefs aggregated by researchers from surveys and public opinion polls can reflect a cultural whole capable of semiautonomously influencing politics, most will find Tang's rich and sophisticated discussion of survey results across a range of iss

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