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Tension Between Authoritarianism and Individualization

In the post-reform era, China is undergoing a process of decentred internationalization (Gonzalez-Vicente 2011: 402). The nation-state has been challenged by the complexity of social problems, the strength of organized interests and the growing internationalization of interdependencies (Chhotray and Stoker 2009: 2). The spread of global economic and social links and the rising power of democratization thus put governance systems under pressure (7). In this process, there are expanded flows of goods, services, ideas and people across state boundaries, thereby increasing the share of transnational exchanges relative to domestic ones and increasing decline in the level of regulation (Yu 2008: 3). As China’s society is integrated more deeply into global production networks, people in China are inexorably transformed by the processes of which they are a part (Beeson 2013: 239). International economic forces and domestic interest have collided and colluded with bureaucratic agents all along China’s administrative borders (Yu 2008: 259).

This produced an internationalized society in China, within which the institution of the state is also undergoing transformation (Chan et al. 2008: 16). As a result, “the monopoly of nation-states, in terms of absolute supremacy, completeness, settled jurisdiction, monopolies of violence, and perpetuity over time, has been severely compromised by ever-growing transnational flows of capital, people, ideas, recourses, commodities, violence, and political and religious fealty” (Brown 2011: 49). In this sense, international forces led political elites, bureaucrats and local actors to behave in ways that undermined the regulatory regime in China (Yu 2008: 261). This challenge to the Party’s institutions, forms of organization and political rationality further consolidated the renewed significance of societal uncertainty (Marshall 2009: 3-5).

Thus, there is tension between modern state rationality and the trans- nationalizing world (Beeson 2013: 246). The result of this tension is that the Party becomes increasingly unable “to provide the means for either understanding or mastering the ordeal of the present, opening up lines of flight that have led to a generalized ‘crisis of governmentality’” (Marshall 2009: 8-9). All of these can be viewed, according to Marshall, as “a ‘crisis of representation’ in a situation of radical uncertainty, where signs and their referents become increasingly unmoored, giving rise to a heightened sense of social insecurity, a fear of fraudulent identities and of strangers, and a growing quest for moral mastery and the ability to control what were seen as untrammelled and dangerous powers” (2009: 9).

More importantly, governing actors are also undergoing a value crisis. The pattern of development under China’s open policy depended greatly on the entrepreneurship of local bureaucrats or leaders of organizations and their ability to manipulate or evade centrally erected barriers to global transactions (Yu 2008: 17). Motivated by global opportunities, bureaucrats, too, facilitated internationalization, largely out of self-interest. Rather than block exchanges, many of them translated regulatory authority into economic gains for themselves and their bureaus. In doing so, officials undermined the very sovereignty that empowered them (Yu 2008: 264). We will examine this problem in subsequent chapters.

To conclude, societal instability has, in turn, led to attempts to grapple with the problem of what is “Chineseness” (Claypool 2005: 568), and, consequently, reflects the unstable power relations of the present. Hence, ancient political legacy, contemporary revolutionary language and other icons have been employed for the purpose of constructing a Chinese national identity as an imagined Chinese people in pursuit of an imagined Chinese Dream (Yang 2014: 180). The discourse of the China Dream has been designed to engage with the context of epistemological, normative and ontological insecurity of life, and thus enable the projection of individual and collective renewal and regeneration (Marshall 2009: 2-3). In other words, there is a contest between China’s initiatives in governing its society and constraints imposed by transnational knowledge in doing so.

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