Handbook of Protest and Resistance in China
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Handbook of Protest and Resistance in China

Edited by Teresa Wright

Featuring contributions from top scholars and emerging stars in the field, the Handbook of Protest and Resistance in China captures the complexity of protest and dissent in contemporary China, while simultaneously exploring a number of unifying themes. Examining how, when, and why individuals and groups have engaged in contentious acts, and how the targets of their complaints have responded, the volume sheds light on the stability of China’s existing political system, and its likely future trajectory.
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Chapter 3: Governing political expression: legitimacy and legal culture

Pitman B. Potter


Discussion of dissent and protest in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) unavoidably involves discussion of the ways in which the PRC’s socialist legal system governs political expression. Since the re-establishment of China’s socialist legal system in 1978, law has come to serve both as an instrument for rule and as a foundation for regime legitimacy. The 4th Plenum of the 18th CCP Central Committee (2014) was labeled the “rule of law plenum,” but stands as just the most recent example of the governing regime using law’s symbolic capital to support its legitimacy while also protecting the privileges and authority of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Yet the exercise of public law as both a mechanism for control and a foundation for regime legitimacy carries with it an inherent conflict between enforcing popular compliance and remaining true to institutional ideals of restraint on state action embodied in conventional rule of law discourse. Confronted by an emerging legal culture of rights in society, the regime’s use of law to control political expression offers a case study on legitimacy and legal culture in contemporary China.

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