Author of the Month: Teresa WrightPublished: August 20, 2012
Accepting Authoritarianism: State Society Relations in China’s Reform Era
Teresa Wright, chair/professor, Department of Political Science
Published in 2010 by the Stanford University Press, this 264-page paperback titled Accepting Authoritarianism: State Society Relations in China’s Reform Era asks why the emergence of capitalism in the 20th century has not led China’s citizenry to press for liberal democratic change. Wright argues that China’s combination of state-led development, late industrialization and socialist legacies has affected Chinese perceptions of their socioeconomic mobility, economic dependence on the state and political options, giving citizens incentives to perpetuate the status quo and disincentives to embrace democratic change. “The standard argument for the lack of political ferment in China is fear. It is said that everybody is too afraid of a Communist clampdown,” said the member of the university since 1996. “The reality is, there’s plenty of protest in China. It has, in fact, increased since the early 1990s. But the type of protest we’ve seen has been different from the Chinese protests we saw in the 1980s. They have become more locally or economically focused. They are not directed in a negative way toward the central regime. They include no calls whatsoever for systemic political reform. Farmers are upset because local officials confiscate their land. Workers in sweat shops protest wages. They’re really not political at all. They’re economic.” Wright is careful to distinguish between low-level political ferment and opposition to the Communist Party. “We haven’t seen political protest directed at the central regime and the highest leaders of the Party,” she said. “When we’ve seen protests at the local level, and they do refer to central party elites, they’ve done so in a positive way. The central party elites are portrayed as saviors. In reality, the laws on the books in China are pretty good but often flouted at the local level.
Looking at protestors in China since the early 1990s, we see the central regime portrayed as a knight in shining armor: ` If only the central party elites knew what these corrupt local party officials and employers were doing, they would step in and save the day.’ Sure enough, in a few cases, that happens. It may not be a big response but it is big enough to protect the regime’s positive reputation.” Wright did her undergraduate work at Santa Clara University, a small Jesuit college in San Jose, where she majored in political science and minored in history. She went on to UC Berkeley where she received her M.A. and Ph.D. in political science in 1996.