Review essay: The safety valve analogy in chinese politics

Dan Chen, Elizabethtown College


Studies on Chinese politics frequently utilize the safety valve analogy to describe various political decisions that allow space for feedback and challenges. Drawing upon these empirical studies and the theoretical literature on institution, authoritarianism, and democratization, this review essay delineates the logic of the safety valve strategy and how it fits into the scheme of prolonging authoritarian rule. It identifies the use of informal and temporary measures to appease aggrieved citizens as the central feature of the safety valve strategy, complementing formal means such as institutional reform. The informal and temporary measures are different from the patronage system, and credibility is not necessarily a prerequisite for effectiveness. The safety valve strategy contributes to authoritarian resilience by relieving public frustration, reducing the propensity to contentious politics, and in some cases enabling the government to collect information on potential opposition groups or emerging problems.