China at the Tipping Point? Foreseeing the Unforeseeable

Issue Date January 2013
Volume 24
Issue 1
Page Numbers 20-25
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The resilience of the Chinese authoritarian regime is approaching its limits. Theories of “threshold models” and “informational cascades” derived from the East German experience may help explain what happens next. China, however, is different from East Germany in several ways. Among other differences, it is not a client state and its economy is growing faster than those of its neighbors. Citizens are better informed about what other people think; the Chinese police are more skilled in the arts of repression, and the regime is more adaptive than other authoritarian regimes. A breakthrough moment could be triggered by several kinds of events. A key variable in the cascade model of political change is fear, and that seems to be diminishing.

About the Author

Andrew J. Nathan is Class of 1919 Professor of Political Science at Columbia University and a member of the steering committee of the Asian Barometer Survey. His books include China’s Search for Security (with Andrew Scobell, 2012).

View all work by Andrew J. Nathan