Dimensionality, contextuality, and conceptual equivalence : the case of critical citizens

Lianjiang LI*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


The paper argues that dimensionality and contextuality analyses are essential to maintaining conceptual equivalence in comparative studies of critical citizens. It argues that underlying the concept of critical citizens is a two-dimensional typology of citizens. One dimension is trust in existing state institutions, and the other is adherence to the underlying regime principles. Measuring each dimension with a dichotomy, we gobserve four types of citizens: (1) trustful system supporters; (2) trustful system opponents; (3) distrustful system supporters; (4) distrustful system opponents. Critical citizens are distrustful system supporters in established democracies, where the concept originates. However, the concept is stretched when applied to non-democracies like China, where critical citizens are distrustful system opponents. The paper generalises the concept, arguing that critical citizens have two defining features. First, they distrust the national government, whether it is democratically elected or self-appointed. Second, they accept electoral and representative democracy as the ideal form of government. Drawing on a national survey, the study finds that about twelve percent of Chinese people are critical citizens. Furthermore, it shows that individuals dissatisfied with the economy, government performance and corruption control are more likely to be critical citizens.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)34-52
Number of pages19
JournalPolitical Science
Issue number1
Early online date17 May 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author acknowledges the financial support of the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong (Project ID: CUHK14601820). He thanks Yue Guan and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments. He thanks Kai Yang for technical assistance.

Funding Information:
The national survey is the Mainland China chapter of the third wave of the Asian Barometer Survey, which is co-directed by Professor Fu Hu and Professor Yun-han Chu and receives major funding support from Taiwan’s Ministry of Education, Academia Sinica and National Taiwan University. The Asian Barometer Project Office is solely responsible for data distribution. Details of the sampling procedure are available on the website of the survey proprietor: http://www.asianbarometer.org/survey/wave-4th-survey . Data used with permission.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Research Trust of Victoria University.


  • acceptance of regime principles
  • China
  • Critical citizens
  • support for democracy
  • trust in government


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