HYI Working Paper Series: Elizabeth Perry

Why are some autocracies more durable than others? In analyzing the institutional mechanisms that sustain authoritarian regimes, and help to explain their historical longevity as well as their persistence in the 21st century, we may first want to take a brief detour back in time to consider the most durable authoritarian political system in world history: imperial China. Two millennia of Chinese imperial rule offer rich material for generating hypotheses about the bases of authoritarian resilience. Moreover the surprising success of the contemporary People’s Republic of China (PRC), where a largely unreformed Communist Party has presided over stunning and sustained economic growth, renders that country’s long experience with authoritarian rule of particular relevance. Inasmuch as PRC leaders and Party theoreticians frequently point to the Chinese past as a source of valuable lessons for present-day governance, consideration of China’s historical record is of more than arcane academic interest.