China at the Tipping Point? Top-Level Reform or Bottom-Up Revolution?

Issue Date January 2013
Volume 24
Issue 1
Page Numbers 41-48
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This essay examines two sharply contrasting and controversial perspectives on China’s near- to medium-term future: top-level reform and bottom-up revolution. The essay highlights the ongoing Chinese discourse in three key areas: the impact of the Bo Xilai crisis on China’s political trajectory, possible triggers for sociopolitical uprising, and new initiatives and institutional safeguards with which the CCP leadership may open the way to systemic change. By first presenting an empirical and conceptual critique of “authoritarian resilience,” a predominant view in overseas studies of Chinese politics, this essay then examines the inherent vulnerability in China’s one-party system and the system’s failed claim for meritocracy in elite recruitment. China’s future will hinge on the dynamic between the fear of revolution and the hope for political reform.

About the Author

Cheng Li is director of research and senior fellow of the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution. His books include The Political Mapping of China’s Tobacco Industry and Anti-Smoking Campaign (2012) and The Road to Zhongnanhai (2012, in Chinese).

View all work by Cheng Li