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Journal Article


Brady A. Am. Behav. Sci. 2009; 53(3): 434-457.


(Copyright © 2009, SAGE Publishing)






States traditionally maintain power by means of either performance-based legitimacy or promulgating ideology. Mass persuasion can be used to both promote a regime’s ideology and persuade the public that it is performing the tasks of government effectively and equitably. Most states use a combination of these two approaches to maintain political stability. In China, since the violent crackdown on the 1989 protest movement, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) government has stressed an old slogan to set a new line on its format for maintaining political power: "Seize with both hands; both hands must be strong." This means that the CCP now bases its legitimacy on both economic growth and a renewed emphasis on persuasion, or what in Chinese terms is known as propaganda and thought work. The two "hands" in this slogan are strong and intertwined, as the key themes of propaganda and thought work in the current period are promoting economic growth, building market confidence, and engaging in economic thought reform. In an extraordinary process of cultural exchange, in recent years China’s propaganda system has deliberately absorbed the methodology of political public relations, mass communications, social psychology, and other modern methods of mass persuasion commonly used in Western democratic societies, adapting them to Chinese conditions and needs. China’s modern-day propaganda and thought work is now market friendly, scientific, high tech, and politics-lite. Focusing on the years from 1989 to 2007, this article uses the case of contemporary China to examine the role of mass persuasion as a force for maintaining and, in China’s case, reclaiming political legitimacy to rule and introduces a new term to understand the China model, popular authoritarianism.


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