Dickson, Bruce J (2016) The Dictator's Dilemma: The Chinese Communist Party's Strategy for Survival. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 368 pp.

ISBN: 978-0-19-022855-2 (print) / 978-0-19-022857-6 (online)

Stein Tønnesson


​This is a recommended read during the runup to the 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in late 2017, where Xi Jinping is expected to consolidate his 'core leadership.' Dickson sees China as a paradigmatic case of authoritarian resilience. Official appointments have been increasingly based on merit, and the regime has been able to adapt itself to change. It relies on costly and effective repression, as well as co-optation and consultation. Its big challenge is to find the right balance. Surveys of public opinion in Chinese cities show remarkable popular support for the CCP among people who believe that their lives will continue to improve. Dickson doubts that China will open up to political competition, transparency and accountability, and refutes the expectation that an economic slowdown will lead to dissatisfaction and demands for political reform. He sees the main threat to the regime in the possible emergence of powerful elites outside of the party. The party must therefore continue to co-opt elite groups. Although he sees regime change as unlikely, he discusses how it might happen, as a state-led transformation, a pacted transition, or a society-led revolution. The third possibility, he says, is the least unlikely. Dickson's arguments are sound and convincing but do not perhaps take sufficiently into account the risk that Xi's anti-corruption campaign, or any attempt he might make to carry out structural economic reforms, could provoke open resistance from powerful groups or more factionalism within the CCP. As Dickson says himself, Xi's fight against corruption may be good for himself but bad for the party's standing.