Medical Protests in China: How China's One-Party System Adapts to Social Conflict
Kerrigan, Amanda L
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Over the past two decades, protests and violence have become increasingly common ways for Chinese patients and families to settle their disputes with hospitals. There are likely hundreds of thousands of these incidents annually, and they have become so widely known that they have their own name in Chinese - yinao. This study posed three research questions about yinao. First, why and how did yinao become a nationwide social phenomenon? Second, how has the Chinese state and society responded to yinao and the sources that drive it? Lastly, what are the implications of how both the Chinese state and society have responded to yinao for how single-Party authoritarian systems can adapt to meet the challenges of their changing societies? I primarily relied on qualitative methods to answer these questions, though where possible I provided analysis on the limited quantitative data available for yinao. For data collection, I used interviews and participant observation in health care and legal settings. For data analysis, I used process tracing, counterfactual analysis, comparative analysis, and evaluation of policy and social variables. My first finding is that while many factors have contributed to the development of yinao, the key to its escalation into a national phenomenon in the early 2000s is likely due in large part to increasing Internet access. Second, I argue that while over time both the Chinese state and society have shown increasing capacity to manage complex policy problems, no matter how innovative policy production is, the unchanging underlying political system continually hampers policymaking, implementation, and social innovation. From this second argument I build two concepts, “tetheredness” and “slack”, to answer the third research question. “Tetheredness” is whether or not institutions are tied to the Chinese Party-state system. The second concept is “slack”: even if an entity is tied to the system, its ability to move freely is influenced by how much “slack” the system has given it. My analysis suggests that giving institutions slack is not enough to realize necessary reforms, and that the real challenge facing China’s leaders will be deciding which institutions need to be completely untethered from the Party-state.