Dissertation Title: Good Friends of Communism: The Democratic Parties and Authoritarian Rule in Contemporary China
This dissertation project studies an authoritarian state—in my case, China—from a perspective of party politics. Most party politics scholars study political parties, party systems and political behavior in democracies, what I bring to the field is an expertise of noncompetitive party politics in authoritarian countries.
This project studies two distinct but related puzzles: Why do people join the non-communist political parties (also known as the democratic parties) in communist China and why is China’s authoritarian rule so resilient despite the internal and external challenges? Even though the democratic parties today have 1.1 million elite members, few scholars have explored their motivations for joining these non-ruling parties and the implications for China’s authoritarian rule. Instead, the existing literature studies authoritarian resilience in China from institutional, political economy and social perspectives. These explanations have significantly advanced our knowledge about authoritarian rule in China. Yet, they all neglect a crucial political actor: China’s powerful non-communist parties. By relying on mixed methods consisting of computer-aided discourse analysis, an original biographical information database, survey method, and nine months of intensive field research, I argue that people join these democratic parties in China since the latter can provide (1) faster upward political mobility; (2) a protected “voice”; and (3) a sense of organizational belonging.
Contrary to conventional assumptions that these non-communist parties are just window dressing organizations in one-party regimes, I argue that the Chinese Communist Party allows the democratic parties to exist and develop since they can, paradoxically, contribute to authoritarian resilience through three mechanisms: information sharing, social (elite) control and public policy innovation. To be specific, these non-communist parties help the Communist Party to solve the information blocking problem which always plagues authoritarian regimes, recruit elites into the regime and reduce political dissidents through socializing potential challengers, and more importantly, actively promote social and economic governance by providing scientific and realistic policy reform proposals. This dissertation is the first systematic effort to study non-communist parties in contemporary China by using original data. It challenges prominent theories of authoritarian politics and party politics, which assume that these non-communist political parties either serve as window dressing political groups for the communist parties or as potential vehicles for democratization. This project can help us better understand noncompetitive party politics in other countries including former communist regimes (Poland, East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia), Mexico under PRI, and Russia today, etc.