Conceptualizing Populism: A Comparative Study Between China and Liberal Democratic Countries

Kun He, Scott A. Eldridge II, Marcel Broersma


This article analyzes the study of populism in China, highlighting its dynamics and features. Compared with abundant studies of populism in democratic countries, populism in China remains underexplored by non-Chinese scholars, and the contributions of Chinese scholarship are largely unknown outside China. To address this gap, this article reviews the state of the art of Chinese scholarship on populism, bringing it into conversation with the wider body of literature. From its analysis, two distinct types of populism are identified within Chinese research: classical communist populism and bottom-up populism. The former is advanced via official channels, through state promotion of the identity, wisdom, and revolutionary potential of the people. The latter is located in the antagonism between the “pure people” and “corrupt elites,” primarily through an online, bottom-up dynamic. We argue that bottom-up populism can also be conceptualized as “online populism,” as a manifestation of populism found in grassroots discourses targeting certain societal elites in online space.


populism, China, meta review, online populism, grassroots discourse

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