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Kerr, "Russian and Chinese responses to recent crises: Dissecting contexts of political processes," 1997

USC Dissertation in Politics.
August 26, 2009

Gregory Peer, Ph.D.

Abstract (Summary)
The 1989 Tiananmen uprising in China did not lead to the overthrow of China's politico-economic system, in contrast to the astonishing 1991 collapse of the USSR. Many political analysts detect parallels in these two occurrences; but this dissertation argues that the anti-system movements in China and the USSR had little in common even though both apparently expressed similar discontent with their own governmental systems.

Although political decision making and leadership are generally considered central to understanding political processes, this study shows the surrounding situational political context may have been decisive in shaping these political processes. This dissertation attempts to develop a new multi-dimensional paradigm to analyze or "disassemble" the context into four subparadigms: (1) economic competition, (2) national and organizational culture, (3) the political psychological environment of a subliminal repression-fulfillment continuum, and (4) the reproducible procedures of systemic processes. Several aspects of these subparadigms have been overlooked in the literature as political scientists puzzle over new ways to interpret the unpredicted upheavals in China and in the USSR.

The Tiananmen uprising was mostly a mass student movement without the economic and political goals of the movement that toppled the USSR's system.

Why the Chinese and Soviet governments responded differently to the crises of 1989 and 1991 can be explained by examining five phenomena: (1) the different leadership styles and personalities of Gorbachev, Yeltsin, and Deng, (2) the degree of reliability of the instruments of violent suppression, (3) the highly unified and centralized Chinese system as compared to the former USSR's multiethnic federation and its layered geographic decentralization, (4) the advanced erosion of ideologies at different rates, (5) and finally China's priority of economic over political reforms as compared to the USSR's placement of political over economic reforms.

This dissertation's contribution lies in its theoretical insights into the processes of these historical events, rather than its evaluation of the outcomes which are generally accepted. But the implications are weighty for both those who want to see development take place democratically and those who argue that democracy is too costly during periods of crises.

Advisor: Dekmejian, Richard