In the early Xi Jinping era, Chinese veterans escalated their contention and repeatedly staged cross-regional collective actions, sparking concerns about the internal stability of the governing regime. However, by 2019 veterans’ broad-based mobilizations had largely faded into obscurity, even though local and individual activism persisted. How did the government successfully contain veterans’ mobilization without radicalizing the entire issue group? Drawing on evidence from fieldwork, media accounts, and government documents, this article argues that the regime has embraced a campaign-style stability maintenance approach, defined as the concerted top-down mobilization of all available resources by central authorities to silence designated targets within a defined time frame. This approach differs from the transformative campaigns prevalent in the Mao Zedong era, as its chief purpose is to defend rather than transform the existing sociopolitical and economic order. It also deviates from routine stability-preserving practices, as the intensity of protest suppression, the breadth of targeted subjects, and the speed of conflict resolution have all been markedly escalated. In the post-Mao era, the state adopts this approach when it urgently needs to silence a particular group or preserve stability during sensitive periods. Although this strategy has indeed assisted the regime in managing politically threatening forms of contention, its implementation often comes at the expense of upholding the rule of law. Furthermore, since its primary goal is to swiftly demobilize protests rather than fundamentally redress grievances, the achieved outcomes may lack long-term sustainability.
Bibliographical noteI am grateful to H. Christoph Steinhardt, Xi Chen, Lianjiang Li, and Kevin J. O’Brien for constructive comments and suggestions at various stages in the making of the manuscript. Special thanks also to Kathryn Bernhardt and three anonymous reviewers. I am also grateful to Dr. Zhengqiang Liu for sharing some of his observations.
Publisher Copyright: © The Author(s) 2023.
- People’s Liberation Army
- campaign-style governance
- protest demobilization
- stability maintenance