China’s Ideological Spectrum

Jennifer Pan

Harvard University – Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Yiqing Xu

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – Department of Political Science

April 12, 2015

MIT Political Science Department Research Paper No. 2015-6


We offer the first large scale empirical analysis of ideology in contemporary China to determine whether individuals fall along a discernible and coherent ideological spectrum, and whether there are regional and inter-group variations in ideological orientation. Using principal component analysis (PCA) on a survey of 171,830 individuals, we identify one dominant ideological dimension in China. Individuals who are politically conservative, who emphasize the supremacy of the state and nationalism, are also likely to be economically conservative, supporting a return to socialism and state-control of the economy, and culturally conservative, supporting traditional, Confucian values. In contrast, political liberals, supportive of constitutional democracy and individual liberty, are also likely to be economic liberals who support market-oriented reform and social liberals who support modern science and values such as sexual freedom. This uni-dimensionality of ideology is robust to a wide variety of diagnostics and checks. Using post-stratification based on census data, we find a strong relationship between liberal orientation and modernization — provinces with higher levels of economic development, trade openness, urbanization are more liberal than their poor, rural counterparts, and individuals with higher levels of education and income and more liberal than their less educated and lower-income peers.

China’s Ideological Spectrum – Introduction

A monolithic ideology is often described as a key characteristic of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes (Friedrich and Brzezinski 1965; Inkeles 1954; Linz 1975, 2000; Neumann 1957), while an ideological spectrum|ranging from conservative to liberal|is typically associated with regimes that have electoral competition. For some scholars, China under Mao approached the ideal type of totalitarianism where social control was diffused and reinforced by a dominant ideology motivating voluntary involvement of individuals (Linz 2000). In Maoist China, commitment of the ruling elites to the ideology of Marxism-Leninism imposed constraints on the range of heterodox policies and formed the basis for policies falling within those constraints (Ahmad and Hussain 1991; Barnett, Hofheinz and Solomon 1972; Whyte and Parish 1984). However, China’s reform and opening up in 1978 ushered in policies that bled past the boundaries set by these prior ideological constraints.

China’s current mode of economic production|one in which private ownership and market forces play an increasing role and one that has changed the county’s social-economic structures|produces contradictions for the Chinese Communist Party’s ideology rooted in Marxism. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has put much effort in crafting a coherent ideological message to take into account the country’s economic and social changes (Brown 2012). However, these economic and social policy changes, and indeed the CCP’s own efforts to elaborate its ruling ideology, mean that ideology in China is no longer monolithic.

Ideology is a highly contested term, containing a range of meanings (Eagleton 1991). The Oxford English Dictionary defines ideology as a \system of ideas and ideals, especially one that forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy.” In the social science literature, ideology has been defined as “a configuration of ideas and attitudes in which the elements are bound together by some form of constraint of functional interdependence” (Converse 1964), or \a cultural system that place particular symbols and particular strains (or interests) side by side” (Geertz 1964), or simply a meaningful and organized representation of public policy preferences or opinion of elites or the mass (e.g., Poole and Rosenthal 1991, 2000; Heckman and Snyder 1997; Ansolabehere, Snyder and Stewart 2001; Stimson 2004; Ansolabehere, Rodden and Snyder 2008; Treier and Hillygus 2009; Stimson 2012). We draw on the third definition in order to operationalize the quantitative analysis presented in this paper.



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