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The Conservative Experts: Chinese Marxist Ethnology, Advocacy Coalition, and the Non-Reform of Contemporary Chinese Ethnic Policy

China
Knowledge
Coalition
Qualitative
Mixed Methods
Policy-Making
Sinan Chu
German Institute of Global And Area Studies
Sinan Chu
German Institute of Global And Area Studies

Abstract

This paper examines the curious absence of significant reform to China's ethnic policy (nationalities policy) in the post-Mao era, despite important changes in the policy process and a push for reform among important actors. Countering conventional wisdom such as fragmented authoritarianism, I proposed an advocacy coalition framework-informed theory of contemporary Chinese policy process. I first discuss two prevailing conceptualizations of policy-making in post-Mao China, namely, the ‘bureaucratic bargaining model’ and ‘pluralist model’. After showing neither could explain very well the absence of reform of China’s ethnic policy, I proceed to present my ACF-informed theory, which combines the insights from both in one unified framework. Based on this theory, I argue that the lack of strong bureaucratic support for the existing policy and the presence of a powerful pro-reform campaign could only have been overcome by a more powerful anti-reform campaign, which would restore the internal-coalition balance within the policy subsystem and prevent the reform. Simply put, existing approaches overlook the important role of counter-mobilization by established experts, who were able to defend the status quo. Importantly, my theory captures the participation of experts in the policy process in China, and the effects of that participation. To test my explanation, I carry out a mixed-method study of China’s ethnic policy discourse between 2000 and 2014, using process-tracing and content analysis on an original dataset of China's ethnic policy debate. The analysis shows that the anti-reform experts organized a coordinated counter-campaign that effectively pushed the pro-reform voice into a minority position. This result demonstrates that the intervention of a stronger advocacy played a key role in helping the anti-reform coalition to resist the pressure and defend the existing policy.