Oxford University Press, 2014 (in paperback, cloth, or Kindle via Amazon)
How do public opinion and nationalist sentiment affect the foreign policy of China and other non-democratic states? Can authoritarian states like China utilize domestic politics to their advantage in international bargaining? I argue that nationalist street demonstrations can provide diplomatic leverage for authoritarian governments that are not electorally accountable to public opinion, enabling Chinese and other authoritarian leaders to signal their intentions and tie their hands in international negotiations. In China, anti-Japanese protests were tolerated in 1985, 2005 and 2012 but restrained in 1990, 1996, and 2010, among others. Anti-American protests were permitted in 1999 but repressed in 2001. Street protests against Taiwan independence, one of the most important issues to Chinese nationalists, have never been allowed. An internet petition objecting to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan in January 2010 was muted a few days after it appeared.
Similar patterns of repression and tolerance are readily apparent in Egypt, Iran, Syria, and other non-democratic regimes. Why, when, and how do authoritarian governments give their citizens a green, yellow, or red light to protest against foreign targets? I develop a theory of authoritarian response to nationalist, anti-foreign mobilization, incorporating both international and domestic factors. At the domestic level, I argue that authoritarian leaders must strike a balance between the risk to domestic stability and the cost of repression. At the international level, I argue that nationalist protests, if sincere, give unelected leaders a way to point to public opinion and credibly claim that diplomatic concessions would be too costly at home. By allowing anti-foreign protests, autocrats communicate their resolve to stand firm, demonstrate the extent of public anger, and justify an unyielding bargaining stance. On the other hand, repressing nationalist protests enables authoritarian leaders to signal their willingness to compromise and show flexibility in international negotiations.
Powerful Patriots traces China's management of dozens of anti-foreign protests--both those that occurred and those that were prevented--and their diplomatic consequences between 1985 and 2012, drawing upon over 14 months of field research, including more than 170 interviews with nationalist activists, protesters, officials, and analysts in China, Japan and the United States.
Weiss proves to be a tenacious investigator, making her book an invaluable chronicle of how China, Japan and the US have handled charged diplomatic confrontations. She does not merely trace anti-foreign protests since China began its helter-skelter modernisation in the early 1980s. She also tracks the “dogs that didn’t bark” – the occasions when the government ensured that protests against Japan and the like did not take place – to obtain a more nuanced measure of official responses. The book judiciously sorts a mass of detail about tussles between the government and its citizens in China; and between Beijing, Tokyo and Washington as they attempt to find diplomatic exits from disputes.
—Richard McGregor, The Financial Times, November 2, 2014
This is a fascinating analysis of how Chinese leaders have tried to manage, and sometimes manipulate, the double-edged sword of nationalist sentiment in international disputes with Japan and the U.S. Weiss shows how the regime takes advantage of nationalist protests to credibly convey resolve in disputes, and also how credibility entails costs—risks to regime stability and risks of unintended military escalation. Essential reading for anyone interested in possible paths to interstate war and regime change in Asia.
—James D. Fearon, Stanford University
Jessica Weiss has written a pioneering rationalist account of when, how and why Chinese leaders use nationalist protest for foreign policy bargaining purposes. The argument is tight, and the evidence is both rich and systematically presented. The book is an important addition to the small but burgeoning literature on the foreign policy of authoritarian states, and on the role of public opinion in Chinese foreign policy. Definitely a must-read book.
—Alastair Iain Johnston, Harvard University
In her timely and pathbreaking study of China’s anti-foreign protests, Jessica Chen Weiss has taken us behind the scenes of a crucial form of diplomatic theatre. She introduces us to influential players we never knew, decodes sensitive government decisions reached in private, and provides the first systematic analysis of Chinese handling of grassroots nationalist demonstrations. With the analytical power of a social scientist, and the reach of a great investigator, Weiss found and interviewed nearly two hundred activists, diplomats, and others. Her findings should retire two caricatures: protesters as mere puppets of the state, and mobs of unmanageable nationalists who force the hand of diplomats; the truth lies in between, and Weiss has laid it bare. This is a book every China watcher will need at hand as the conflicts in the East China Sea and South China Sea set the stage for wider protests in the years to come.
—Evan Osnos, author of Age of Ambition and staff writer at The New Yorker
This important and timely book provides the first systematic study of anti-foreign protests in today's China. Weiss offers a novel and nuanced argument to explain when and why these protests are allowed - and when and why they are suppressed. As Weiss shows, the diplomatic objectives that China's leaders pursue are often a decisive factor, as protests can be tolerated to signal resolve or blocked to signal reassurance. Anyone interested in contemporary Chinese foreign policy should read this book.
—M. Taylor Fravel, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Global Asia review by John Delury, Winter 2014
How does popular nationalism shape China’s foreign policy? It is an old question, but recent debate is over whether Chinese leaders are “riding a tiger,” genuinely afraid that mass patriotism will turn against Beijing, or merely “crying wolf,” artificially manufacturing xenophobia in the streets when it suits their purposes. Jessica Chen Weiss, an assistant professor at Yale University and a rising star in the China field, goes beyond this either/or approach. She develops a powerful, original argument revealing a complex relationship between anti-foreign street protest and authoritarian foreign policy making. Her book provides meticulous, readable retellings of anti-US and anti-Japan populist outbursts since the 1980s. She shows how Beijing sometimes represses protest to signal a desire for good relations, sometimes allows it to signal resolve in an international dispute.
This kind of signaling is the Communist Party’s authoritarian equivalent to the negotiating tactic of US presidents insisting their options for compromise are limited by a hardline US Congress. It thus has broader relevance to diverse cases across Asia, from anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam to Myanmar’s rejection of Chinese infrastructure investments on the basis of public outrage. She also tells a cautionary tale over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands of the dangers of underestimating the power of nationalist sentiment. Her book is full of lessons for Beijing’s leaders. “Nationalism helps prop up the Chinese regime but may also become its downfall,” she warns.
--John Delury, Assistant Professor at Yonsei University Graduate School of International Studies and a Global Asia Book Review Editor
In regard to China-Japan relations, reactions among youths, especially students, are strong. If difficult problems were to appear still further, it will become impossible to explain them to the people. It will become impossible to control them. I want you to understand this position which we are in.
—Deng Xiaoping to senior Japanese officials, June 28, 1987, quoted in Cankao Xiaoxi, June 30, 1987