Foreign Affairs‘s January-February 2013 issue has an interesting piece by Huang Yasheng, “Democratize or Die: Why China’s Communists Face Reform or Revolution.” (There’s a companion piece, “The Life of the Party: The Post-Democratic Future Begins in China” by Eric X. Li.)
We don’t have time to pursue questions of the interactions of economic performance and politics in any depth. However, if China’s political system is unstable – and I interpret the actions of the leadership as reflecting such a belief – then things that give people greater voice (a more finely spun web of business connections, better communications) and greater interest (externalities matter more, both due to their severity and because with higher incomes, it’s harder to buy people off with growth, and more people perceive externalities as a problem making mere repression harder). I can’t assess the larger political science literature, but see references in these two articles.
In any case, you have a paper, and then our next course segment is on industry, completing an agriculture-migration-industry structure (ignoring services, for many reasons). Peasants have little voice; the government has so far succeeded in keeping them from bringing their problems to the cities (in the sense of bottling up protests so that they remain out of sight, and hence politically irrelevant). But industry can be concentrated, middle-class societies produce big firms, and big firms gain political clout. Peasants in a village here and there can rise up; Beijing doesn’t care. But workers at a large urban enterprise would not be so readily handled.
I believe that important. In representative systems (I know about Japan, the US and the EU) rural areas are over-represented. In authoritarian systems, it is urban interests that dominate. But as incomes rise, well, can one-party rule prove robust? I’ve heard predictions to the contrary since 1988, in the run-up to the Tiananmen student protests. Fifteen years is a long time. So take Li’s “devils advocate” position seriously.