Regularizing Rioting: Permitting Public Protest in an Authoritarian Regime
Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 8:No 2, pp 127-158
Posted: 26 Jun 2007 Last revised: 16 Sep 2013
Date Written: April 10, 2013
Lacking the informative feedback provided by competitive elections, an unfettered press and an active civil society, authoritarian regimes can find it difficult to identify which social groups have become dangerously discontented and to monitor lower levels of government. While a rise in public protest is often seen as a harbinger of regime collapse in such states, this paper uses a formal model and a close examination of the Chinese case to show that the informal toleration and even encouragement of small-scale, narrowly economic protests can be an effective information gathering tool, mitigating these informational problems. The analysis demonstrates that protests should be observed most frequently where discontent is neither too high nor too low. This calls into question the common assumption in comparative politics that an increase in protests necessarily reflects an increase in discontent or the weakness of a regime.
Keywords: China, protests, riots, authoritarianism
JEL Classification: D72, D73, H77, P26
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