Rebuilding a Fragile Institution: The Sisyphean Loop of China’s Media Reforms

Yazhou Liu, University of California, San Diego

This paper identifies a cyclical pattern that China’s media system has repeated during each period of the one-party regime: not only was the national media system built in the early Mao era wrecked and abandoned by Mao during the Cultural Revolution, progress made in media reforms during the Deng and the post-Deng eras was also rolled back along the way. Playing alternately the roles of sponsor and terminator, the one-party system has placed the reform of its media system in a Sisyphean loop of rebuilding and regressing. Taking a historical institutional approach, I argue that this cyclical pattern should not be understood merely as continuous setbacks suffered by media professionals pursuing reforms, but more importantly, as a recurring breakdown of the institutionalization process that the Party has repeatedly initiated and then abandoned amid its legitimacy crisis. In this sense, the history of China’s media reforms is a microcosm of the uneasy relationship between the one-party system and its fragile institutions.

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 Presented in Session 107. Institutions and Social Change