Christian was a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre between October 2009 and March 2012. His research interests lie in the change and persistence of democratic and authoritarian systems, central-local relations and governance in China's multi-tiered administration, reforms of rural taxation and administration in China, and the comparative study of corruption. He currently pursues two research projects. One examines the consolidation of authoritarian regimes, the other is concerned with the impact of government propaganda on peasant-cadre relations in rural China.
1. How do Dictatorships Survive? Comparing Taiwan (1947-1992), China, Myanmar and Laos
For a long time, dictatorships were comprehended as necessarily short-lived, as they were seemingly unable to adapt to internal and external challenges. Repression and rent dispersion were seen as the only means to keep them in power. However, while many autocracies indeed fit this stereotype, others have used less coercion, dispersed little rents, but survived for a long time.
The project tests the hypothesis that the durability of authoritarian regimes increases to the extent that regime elites manage to substitute coercion for governing by organization, regulation and the management of discourses. It is believed that this provides them with a broader - and less costly - range of options to address social problems and regime challenges than merely intimidating or cracking down on opponents.
To test this hypothesis, the development of four very different regimes will be examined by means of archival research, interviews, opinion surveys and the statistical evaluation of regime performance: Taiwan under single-party rule (1947-1992), a classical “developmental” dictatorship that survived for almost half a century before democratizing in the early 1990s; China, a rapidly developing stable single-party dictatorship that has survived to this day; Myanmar, an underdeveloped military regime that broke down in 1988 and made room for another unstable military dictatorship; and Laos, an underdeveloped single-party autocracy that has remained quite stable.
The project overcomes difficulties of previous approaches and offers a novel way of assessing authoritarian regimes. Its findings will be not only of academic, but also of practical relevance, i.e. for development- or democracy assistance.
2. Reigning by blaming? Propaganda, the media, and peasant-cadre relations in China
The project explores the impact of party-state propaganda on peasant-cadre relations in China. Specifically, it examines in how far propaganda as a “technology of government” is used successfully to shape identities, social relations and legitimizing discourses in rural China. Peasant-cadre relations are chosen as a case study because of their significance for overall regime stability in China. Development and modernization in China has often been very closely connected to rural issues, be it in the form of successful or unsuccessful government attempts to improve rural living standards or in the form of urban development encroaching on the lives of rural residents. The legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party hinges on its ability to close the rural-urban development gap, and rural issues figure prominently in Chinese public opinion. Accordingly, party-state agencies exert great efforts to not only passively monitor, but also actively shape the public discourse on these issues.
Christian has been trained in Political Science and Modern China Studies in Erlangen (1993-1995), Taipei (1995-1997), and Heidelberg (1998-2002). From April 2003 to May 2008, he was a Lecturer and Research Fellow for Political Science and East Asian Studies at the University of Duisburg-Essen. In May 2008, he completed his Ph.D. on the Rural Tax and Fee Reform (nongcun shuifei gaige), a series of grassroots-level fiscal and administrative reforms in rural China implemented between 2000 and 2006. Upon receiving his Ph.D., he was appointed Assistant Professor for Politics in East Asia at the University of Duisburg-Essen. In the 2009 spring term, he was granted an academic leave of absence to substitute the Professorship for the Economy and Society of China at the Institute of Chinese Studies, Ruprecht-Karls-University Heidelberg. He is fluent in English and Chinese and has broad experience in conducting field work in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Christian has just published a monograph that explains the outcomes of recent reform policies aimed at curbing the unregulated and frequently illegal extractions that have plagued China’s peasants throughout history ("The Politics of Rural Reform in China: State Policy and Village Predicament in the Early 2000s," Abingdon/New York: Routledge 2010. Another monograph, co-authored with Thomas Heberer ("The Politics of Community Building in Urban China, Abingdon/New York: Routledge 2011) is in print. In addition, he has published widely on rural reforms and central-local relations in China, corruption in Taiwan, and the consolidation of authoritarian regimes.