When Harvard researcher Jennifer Pan and MIT researcher Yiqing Xu posted a widely cited new paper, “China’s Ideological Spectrum” on April 12, it marked the first time that anyone has provided large-scale empirical data on the ideological shifts and trends within the Chinese population. China scholars have, of course, lavished attention on these issues for years — one cannot build a coherent argument about Chinese political and social change without grappling with them — but their arguments were largely based on personal experiences and anecdotes. The Pan and Xu paper therefore did academic and policy circles a significant service by providing a firmer foundation for such discussion.
The paper is not intended as an accurate temperature reading of the Chinese population’s ideological leanings. A voluntary online survey, with its inherent selection biases, cannot do that. What it can do, however, is measure a number of relative and relational factors: which beliefs correlate positively or negatively with each other, whether different regions lean in different directions, and whether exogenous factors such as income or education affect those relative leanings. (The excerpted image above this article shows unweighted data for provincial ideological rank; the most liberal provinces are blue, the most conservative are red, and those in the middle are purple. Grey areas indicate insufficient data.)
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