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The Politics of Weiwen: Stability as a Source of Political Legitimacy in Post-Tiananmen China

China
Contentious Politics
Governance
Political Violence
Security
Wai Hei Samson Yuen
University of Oxford
Wai Hei Samson Yuen
University of Oxford
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Abstract

Stability (wending 稳定) has become one of the most circulated words in China. However, little is known about how the stability discourse developed and how it became the practice of stability maintenance (weiwen 维稳). This paper argues that stability has become a source of political legitimacy in post-Tiananmen China. Whereas social science research considers stability as the manifestation of political legitimacy, this paper articulates a reverse process – one in which “stability-making” contributes to regime legitimation by defining the continued maintenance of social order as a mark of popular consent to the CCP’s authoritarian rule. It examines three processes by which the party-state capitalizes stability as a marker of legitimacy: the discursive spread of the stability imperative, the institutionalization of weiwen practices, and the bureaucratization of weiwen into daily repertoire of governance. The result is a complex and multi-layered stability maintenance apparatus that diffuses and recalibrates state power, thereby allowing the party-state to govern an increasingly restive society and generate popular support.