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Title: The war on language : language management and resistance in contemporary China
Author: Lee, Siu Yau
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2013
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What explains institutional change in authoritarian regimes presiding over fragmented societies? A popular assumption is that, because the state is so powerful, major institutional change takes place only when certain actors within the state system see such change as beneficial for their personal or collective interests. In other words, institutional changes are necessarily top-down and elitist in nature. Challenging that position, this thesis articulates a theory of gradual institutional change in authoritarian regimes, arguing that authoritarian institutions, as distributional instruments laden with power implications, are likely to be unstable and ambiguous, allowing social actors to advance their personal or collective interests through gradual institutional modifications. As these resistances accumulate, the costs for state actors to maintain their increasingly ineffective institutions rise to an unsustainable level, incentivising them to revise their core practices—and, by extension, sometimes expand existing rights or extend new ones to their citizens. This argument is supported by a systematic examination of the Chinese state’s historic attempts to promote the use of a standardised language form—putonghua—and simplified Chinese characters on a national scale, and a range of popular resistance efforts against them. Drawing upon newly available archival materials, survey data, and in-depth interviews, I conduct process-tracing case studies of three successive language management regimes—namely, top-down (from the 1950s to 1980s), incentivising (from the 1990s to mid-2000s), and selective (from the mid-2000s), demonstrating how they were challenged and gradually modified by their subjects. From this position I argue that the deployment of official language policy in the PRC is determined endogenously by the ambiguities of existing language institutions as well as exogenously by levels of economic development and communication technology. The casual arguments are then evaluated in light of evidence from the history of language management in the former Soviet Union and Tawian.
Supervisor: Thornton, Patricia Sponsor: Swire Educational Trust ; China Oxford Scholarship Fund
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Political science ; Political economy of markets and states ; Public policy ; language management ; institution ; institutional change