Shaking Up and Making Up China: How the Party-State Compromises and Creates Ontological Security for its Subjects


A growing chorus of observers has warned of threats to regime stability in China in recent years. In spite of these concerns, the party-state’s grip on power in many respects appears as strong today as at any time since 1989, making it a remarkable outlier in a shrinking pool of long-surviving authoritarian regimes. This article addresses the debate over the resilience of the Chinese party-state by suggesting that one source of this resilience lies in the regime’s distinct functions in citizens’ experience of ontological security. Ontological security refers to a basic need of individuals for a sense of continuity and order in events. The main argument is that China’s party-state has developed a mode of rule that both compromises and creates ontological security for its citizens. On one level, the party-state undermines individuals’ ontological security. The regime has engineered profound transformations of Chinese society, producing conditions that compromise its subjects’ ontological security. At the same time, the party-state provides individuals with resources to buttress their ontological security. Official discourses function as anchors that assist individuals in this pursuit. A survey of research on Chinese politics supports these conclusions.


History and Political Science

Keywords and Phrases

China; Ontological security; Authoritarianism; Regime stability; Political transition

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

1408-6980; 1581-1980

Document Type

Article - Journal

Document Version


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© 2018 Palgrave Macmillan UK, All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 Feb 2018