Disruptions as Opportunities

Governing Chinese Society with Interactive Authoritarianism
Taiyi Sun
How authoritarian states adapt to new phenomena


Disruptions as Opportunities: Governing Chinese Society with Interactive Authoritarianism addresses the long-standing puzzle of why China outlived other one-party authoritarian regimes with particular attention to how the state manages an emerging civil society. Drawing upon over 1,200 survey responses conducted in 126 villages in the Sichuan province, as well as 70 interviews conducted with Civil Society Organization (CSO) leaders and government officials, participant observation, and online research, the book proposes a new theory of interactive authoritarianism to explain how an adaptive authoritarian state manages nascent civil society. Sun argues that when new phenomena and forces are introduced into Chinese society, the Chinese state adopts a three-stage interactive approach toward societal actors: toleration, differentiation, and legalization without institutionalization. Sun looks to three disruptions—earthquakes, internet censorship, and social-media-based guerilla resistance to the ride-sharing industry—to test his theory about the three-stage interactive authoritarian approach and argues that the Chinese government evolves and consolidates its power in moments of crisis.
Taiyi Sun is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Christopher Newport University.

Praise / Awards

  • “In this brilliant and rigorous analysis, Taiyi Sun provides a unified interactive authoritarianism model and masterfully explains why robust and tolerated civil society activities could co-exist with continuous crackdowns on civil society in China. A must-read for anyone studying and interested in China.”
    —Cheng Li, Brooking Institution's John L. Thornton China Center

  • “Relying on the rich data and a solid methodological approach, Disruptions as Opportunities advances a unified conceptual framework to understand how an authoritarian state may adapt at times of crises and institutional disruptions that are of different nature.”
    —Rongbin Han, University of Georgia
  • “Much of the civil society literature in China focuses on state-society models as an outcome but does not examine the dynamic process of how the relationship might change over time in reaction to institutional disruptions. Taiyi Sun develops a more holistic framework to explain this dynamic ‘interactive authoritarianism’ process and expands our understanding of social control in authoritarian regimes.”
     —Jessica C. Teets, Middlebury College

  • "The resilience of authoritarian rule in China is among the most time-honored questions that have produced generations of remarkable scholarship. Taiyi Sun has provided another groundbreaking explanation that focuses on the Chinese government’s artful control of a burgeoning civil society. This thought-provoking book will generate reflections and debates in the years to come."
    —Yuhua Wang, Harvard University

News, Reviews, Interviews

Listen: Author Interview on the "With Good Reason" podcast | September 23, 2022

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 300pp.
  • 12 figures, 18 tables.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2023
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-07563-8

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  • $80.00 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2023
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-05563-0

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  • $29.95 U.S.

  • Open Access
  • 2023
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-90330-6

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  • China, authoritarian resilience, civil society, institutional disruptions, censorship, protest, CSO, NGO, interactive authoritarianism, toleration, differentiation, legalization without institutionalization, self media, social media, experiment, natural experiment, guerrilla resistance, collective action, state-society, deliberate differentiation, earthquake, social capital, Chinese Communist Party, CCP, CPC, public goods provision, East Asia, disaster politics, non-profit politics, contentious politics, democratization, social science methodology