Elite and mass perceptions of legitimacy in China: An empirical exploration of the Pudong New Area (1995)

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


John D. Nagle


Legitimacy, China, Pudong New Area, Government performance, Stability, Trust

Subject Categories

Asian Studies | Political Science | Politics and Social Change


China is a country in transition. If China is to continue growing economically and progressing with market reform, political stability is the minimum requirement. There is a scholarly consensus that legitimacy significantly influences regime stability. On the basis of this argument, this study holds that legitimacy depends on the consent of the people and that not every social group has the same amount of influence on political issues and can equally affect political stability. As compared with other groups, the major assumption of this study is that government legitimacy among educated elites is more important than that among the masses for maintaining the legitimacy of a given regime and predicting stability. By treating "legitimacy" as "the level of public support for the political regime," the primary task of this study is to explore the distinction between the educated elites and the less educated masses about their support toward the current communist regime in terms of the following six aspects--evaluation of government performance, awareness of politics, preference for political and social stability, life satisfaction, reliance on government, and trust in government--in the Pudong New Area.

In general, this study indicates that the Pudong government has successfully sustained its legitimacy and gained necessary support through its economic performance. No sings have been found showing that China will encounter immediate challenge in the near future. Nevertheless, the educated elites and the less educated mass differ significantly in many ways. The former, for instance, are more interested in politics, but less trust in government than the latter. As well, those with higher education and income are more satisfied with their daily lives, but are less reliant on and more suspicious of the government. In a broad sense, the signs of social differentiation reflect that China is moving in the general direction of a more developed form of society, though it is far from being fully developed.

Compared with many other developing countries, this study concludes that China's incremental reform has created the possibility of completing the economic and political transitions to a modern society in peace and stability. Though China's future is uncertain, what is for sure is that China needs to adapt to the environmental change.


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