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Andrew Wedeman

The collapse of China’s communist regime has been predicted for nearly two decades. Yet despite ample evidence of unrest, the regime has displayed remarkable resilience. In this chapter, I begin by examining the evidence on China’s internal security environment, highlighting the range and complexity of the challenges the regime faces. I then analyze the “coming collapse” thesis both as it has been applied to China and as it is related to the literature on contentious politics. Ultimately, the key flaw with the coming collapse argument lies in its determinism. It seems clear that there is considerable unrest in China, but the dynamics of contention are far more complex and contingent than as presented in the coming collapse thesis. In the late 1990s, Shambaugh and others sought to answer the “big” question: “Is China unstable?” At the time, communism in the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact had imploded a decade earlier and been swept into the “dustbin of history.” Deng Xiaoping, the regime’s strongman, had died in 1997. The double-digit growth rates of the mid-1990s had fallen sharply, and social unrest was increasing. In 1993, the Ministry of Public Security reported there had been 8,700 “mass incidents”—illegal assemblies (24 a day). Five years later, the ministry reported the number had increased nearly three-fold to 25,000 (69 a day).