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Understanding China's Rising Rights Consciousness*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 July 2015

Peter Lorentzen
University of California, Berkeley.
Suzanne Scoggins
University of California, Berkeley.
E-mail address:


Claims that China's people are exhibiting a rising “rights consciousness” have become commonplace, with some suggesting this phenomenon is driving political change. Yet it is often unclear what the concept means, leading to ambiguous or contradictory conclusions from field research. In order to create a basis for more systematic analysis, we develop a rational choice framework that characterizes three different factors that could lead to rights-conscious behaviour: changing values, changing government policies, and changing expectations of the behaviour of others. What rising rights consciousness implies for social stability can vary dramatically, depending on which change is at work. Rights consciousness resulting from changes in values or in shared expectations of behaviour is destabilizing for the CCP's continued rule, whereas rights consciousness derived from government policies has a stabilizing effect. While in practice these can be interrelated in complex ways, empirical research would benefit from greater attention to these distinctions.


关于中国民众 “权利意识” 日益提高的提法已经是老生常谈了。有些研究认为这一现象正在促进中国的政治变革。然而, “权利意识” 这一概念本身却常常缺乏清晰的所指, 由此带来实证研究中的含混和分歧。为了给进一步的系统研究提供基础, 本文提出了一个基于理性选择理论的框架来理解中国民众维权行为背后的三大动因: 价值观念的变化, 政府政策的变化, 以及个体对维权行为社会反响预期的变化。因其背后动因的不同, “权利意识”上升对政治稳定的影响可能完全迥异。由价值观念变化或由个体对维权行为社会反响预期的变化而引发的 “权利意识” 可能撼动政治稳定; 反之, 由政府政策变化引发的 “权利意识” 则有利于维护稳定。因此, 尽管这三种动因实际上可能同时存在并相互关联, 对其进行概念上的区分将有助于实证研究。

Copyright © The China Quarterly 2015 

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Research support for this article was provided by the Center for Chinese Studies, the Institute for East Asian Studies and the Institute for International Studies at UC Berkeley, and the Hoover Institution. The authors wish to thank Leo Arriola, Pradeep Chhibber, Ruth Collier, Mary Gallagher, Rongbin Han, Yue Hou, Lianjiang Li, Simeon Nichter, Jack Paine, Kevin O'Brien, Elizabeth Perry, Alison Post, Ariel Yun Tang and Wen-hsin Yeh for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper.


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