Date of Award

Spring 2007

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


International Studies

Committee Director

Jie Chen

Committee Member

Kurt Taylor Gaubatz

Committee Member

Francis Adams

Committee Member

Kae Chung


Does the middle class in China think and act democratically and hence serve as the harbinger of democratic development in that country? Little empirical work has been done to systematically address this crucial question. The primary goals of this dissertation are to explore the level of attitudinal support for democracy among Chinese middle class individuals, examine their behavioral orientations toward politics, and provide a comprehensive assessment of the role of the Chinese middle class in the evolution of the Chinese political system. This dissertation argues that the middle class in China consists of the following four occupational groups: self-employed laborers, managers, professionals, and civil servants. Following this conceptualization, it discusses the relations between the Chinese party-state and the newly rising middle class, and makes distinctions between the subgroup of middle class individuals employed in the public sector and the subgroup employed in the private sector, and posits three hypotheses: (1) The private-sector middle class has strong democratic attitudes; on the other hand, the public-sector middle class has significantly weaker democratic attitudes; (2) The private-sector middle class individuals' democratic orientation may lead to their negative evaluation of the current forms of mass political participation; in turn, this negative evaluation may cause the private-sector middle class individuals to engage in non-participatory action as a form of protest against the current system; and (3) The public-sector middle class individuals' undemocratic belief may lead to their positive evaluation of the current forms of mass political participation; in turn, this positive evaluation may cause the public-sector middle class individuals to engage in participatory action to express their support of the current system. The hypothesized causal relationships are tested via three representative public opinion surveys.

The three hypotheses are strongly supported by the empirical evidence. This dissertation concludes that the private-sector middle class people are more likely to hold democratic values and act in ways that promote democracy in China, while the public-sector middle class people tend to hold negative attitudes toward democracy and act in an undemocratic fashion. Such findings are of theoretical and practical significance.