Between Crisis and Routine: The Reemergence of Bureaucrats as Politics of Exception in An Age of Chinese Populism (1958-1979)

Yingyao Wang, University of Virginia

Current studies of populist politics focus more on its genesis and less on its demise. Drawing on historical insights in the context of early People’s Republic of China, this articles exams the full arc of a populist episode and demonstrates that the interactive dynamics between bureaucratic politics and populist campaigns shapes greatly how populist movement transpired and fell. Examining the period from Great Leap Forward movement, Cultural Revolution, to China’s transition to economic reform (1958-1979), I make two key observations to substantiate the above argument: first, the prolongment of populist movement built into itself a self-perpetuating structural crisis that kept alive a role for bureaucrats to play as periodic trouble shooters; second, to challenge populist project required bureaucratic entrepreneurship for articulating an alternative moral, not just technical, program to seize the political space occupied by the populists. Therefore, I propose that, instead of treating populist and bureaucratic politics as different phases succeeding each other in a pendulum movement, we should attend to the possibility that bureaucrats could resurge within the populist movements not until it emptied the political stage. In other words, the routinization of populism rendered the preservation and reemergence of bureaucrats possible, counterintuitively, as a form of politics of exception. Thus, this article uncovers a more dialectic relationship between routine and crisis, and between morality and technical rationality than current analysis on populist politics allows.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 198. The politics of markets