Legitimacy of Authoritarian Law: Legal Compliance in China – International Sociology – article

Legitimacy of Authoritarian Law: Legal Compliance in China

Wenjie Liao | International Sociology


Very few studies of legal compliance have been conducted outside the context of liberal democracies. This study tests and expands theoretical expectations regarding legitimacy and its effect on legal compliance in the context of China, a society under authoritarian rule where clashing cultural discourses coexist. In addition, it examines different types of laws, highlighting the importance of social relations regulated by and cultural elements supporting various laws. Using linear regressions with data from an original representative social survey of 556 individuals in Chengdu, China, the author finds that (1) the perceived legitimacy of law, (2) expectations concerning compliance with law, and, most importantly, (3) the association between law’s legitimacy and expected compliance all vary according to the type of social relationship targeted by the legal regulation (familial, state-oriented, or economic). The article shows how China’s cultural, political, and historical environments contribute to the patterns identified in this analysis.


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