Handbooks of Research on Contemporary China series
Edited by David S.G. Goodman
Chapter 20: Reports of social unrest: basic characteristics, trends and patterns, 2003–12
A persistent question that preoccupies scholars who study authoritarian China is social stability and durability of the communist regime. The authoritarian government, obsessed with social stability, looks for any sign of unrest which may pose a threat to the regime. It invests hundreds of millions of renminbi every year in stability maintenance, propaganda, and internet monitoring to root out would-be protestors. Despite that, and gleaning from various media reports, it can be surmised that the number of social unrest cases – a major threat to the Communist Party’s rule – has risen. While that may be true, details of the frequency, size, scope, grievances giving rise to, and impact on the regime of social unrest are still rather elusive. Publicly available official figures indicate a total of 8700 ‘mass incidents’ in 1993, increasing tenfold to 87 000 in 2005. However, the authorities have ceased issuing any official figures since then. A frequently cited estimate by Sun Liping, a researcher at Tsinghua University, suggests that there were 180 000 incidents in 2010 (Orlik 2011). This chapter addresses these important issues by analysing a dataset of social unrest in China constructed from more than 2500 cases during 2003–12. The dataset is constructed based on coding of unrest cases reported in the Chinese-language and English media.
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