China Report: The Politburo's Predicament | Freedom House
Chinese people demonstrating for more freedom Chinese people demonstrating for more freedom

Confronting the Limitations of Chinese Communist Party Repression

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The Politburo’s Predicament—which examines the evolution of the censorship and internal security apparatus under the leadership of Xi Jinping—finds that the overall degree of repression has increased since Xi rose to power in November 2012 but at a cost to the Communist Party's resilience.

Xi has combined populist and coercive policies in an attempt to strengthen the party’s hold on power. These efforts have proven somewhat effective, but they have also fueled resentment and recruitment to the cause of rights defense, both within society and among some party members, security personnel and censors, author Sarah Cook concludes.

The result is that the Chinese Communist Party is trapped in a vicious cycle, whereby the actions taken to maintain power risk alienating the population and some of its own members, undermining the regime’s long-term legitimacy and security.

Key Findings

  • The prospects for top-down liberalization under the current leadership appear to be slim to none. Xi and the Politburo are responding to new threats by falling back on repressive tactics rather than experimenting with more liberal policies.
  • Ultimate authority over information controls and domestic security has been consolidated in the hands of Xi himself via new party entities, exposing the highest echelons of the party to blame for the system’s abuses.
  • The targets of repression have expanded, including to previously tolerated activities, private gatherings, and individuals from the economic elite or with official ties.
  • The tactics of coercion have evolved. The new leadership has revived old practices—including ones reminiscent of the Mao era—while employing novel approaches such as increasingly strategic, multipronged campaigns against activists.
  • Despite heightened repression, fear of the regime appears to be diminishing. Civil society is proving resilient and participation in rights defense activities is growing. Meanwhile, some of those tasked with implementing censorship and repression are instead showing sympathy with victims and quietly refusing to comply with orders.
photo of the national congress of the communist party
By 东方 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Changes in Repression Level for Chinese Targets

To identify trends in political repression under the new CCP leadership, Freedom House researchers evaluated changes in the level of repression for 17 categories of targets between the two years preceding November 2012 and the period since the change in leadership. The chart below provides an example of the findings regarding six such groups. See here for the evaluation and trend summaries for all 17.

(compared with pre-November 2012 levels)

Minor Increase 
Minor Decrease 


Political Dissidents
Grassroots Rights Activists
Ordinary Internet Users
Civic-minded Businesspeople
Falun Gong Practitioners

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