Retirement of Revolutionaries in China: Public Policies, Social Norms, Private Interests

Retirement of Revolutionaries in China: Public Policies, Social Norms, Private Interests

by Melanie Manion


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ISBN-13: 9780691605340
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 07/14/2014
Series: Princeton Legacy Library , #258
Pages: 210
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

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Retirement of Revolutionaries in China

Public Policies, Social Norms, Private Interests

By Melanie Manion


Copyright © 1993 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-08653-8


Building a Norm

Over the past two decades, as economists and political scientists became more interested in norms, the research agenda has shifted from a Parsonian sociological focus on how norms explain social order to the more perplexing problem of explaining norms. Recent work returns to the same questions social psychologists addressed as early as the 1930s, namely: what explains how norms emerge, are maintained, and disappear?

My concern here is with a planned process of manipulation by leaders with considerable resources, not the unfolding of social norms as some sort of "spontaneous order." And my answers are empirically driven rather than theoretically derived. All the same, the literature on norms provides a useful new perspective on the subject of normative leadership. I used the literature heuristically. My point of departure was the idea that general theories about how norms can emerge spontaneously also describe general principles underlying how policy makers can go about getting norms to emerge through manipulative leadership. I ultimately selected for presentation here only those principles that in fact describe what policy makers in Beijing did to build a norm from their policy of cadre retirement. I view the case studied here as a practical illustration of those principles—adopted by leaders who were by no means necessarily conscious of them as theories. We can think of the principles as mechanisms of norm building.


No single, shared definition of norms exists either within or across the several academic disciplines that pay attention to the concept. Further, what some have called norms others have labeled rules, institutions, customs, or conventions. These terms have also been used for related but essentially different concepts. Yet regardless of terminology, work on norms has some common features. It nearly always assumes a social context (rejecting the notion of private norms) and it concerns itself with recurrent actions and some sort of critical orientation to those actions (distinguishing norms from mere reflex actions or habits, for example). I share these assumptions and concerns in this study and define a norm as a pattern of action, accompanied by an understanding of the pattern as a social standard of propriety.

The first part of the definition is fairly straightforward. That a pattern of action exists implies two things: actions recur and they can be described in general terms. Norms are generalizations that organize recurrent actions into some sort of comprehensible order. Clearly, norms are not the actions per se because then norms could not be motivations for those actions. And norms cannot develop around actions that seem idiosyncratic because those actions cannot be organized sensibly in a general pattern.

The second part of the definition is less obvious. Generalization about recurrent actions is essential to a norm, but there is more to it than simply a neutral perception of pattern. People view the actions critically, recognizing them as particular cases to which the generalization applies. Moreover, the generalization makes those actions binding actions. The generalization not only describes the pattern of action but also prescribes it as a correct form of conduct.

The critical evaluative orientation to the pattern is why norms essentially are not probabilistic predictions about future actions, although knowledge of norms may enable us to predict actions fairly accurately. H. L. A. Hart explains the very subtle but important distinction quite clearly in his discussion of the "internal aspect" of social rules. An external observer can

record the regularities of observable behaviour in which conformity with the rules partly consist and those further regularities, in the form of the hostile reaction, reproofs, or punishments, with which deviations from the rules are met. After a time the external observer may, on the basis of the regularities observed, correlate deviation with hostile reaction, and be able to predict with a fair measure of success, and to assess the chances that a deviation from the group's normal behaviour will meet with hostile reaction or punishment.

If, however, the observer really keeps austerely to this extreme external point of view and does not give any account of the manner in which members of the group who accept the rules view their own regular behaviour, his description of their life cannot be in terms of rules at all.... Instead, it will be in terms of observable regularities of conduct, predictions, probabilities, and signs. For such an observer, deviations by a member of the group from normal conduct will be a sign that hostile reaction is likely to follow, and nothing more. His view will be like the view of one who, having observed the working of a traffic signal in a busy street for some time, limits himself to saying that when the light turns red there is a high probability that the traffic will stop. He treats the light merely as a natural sign that people will behave in certain ways, as clouds are a sign that rain will come. In so doing he will miss out a whole dimension of the social life of those whom he is watching, since for them the red light is not merely a sign that others will stop: they look upon it as a signal for them to stop, and so a reason for stopping in conformity to rules which make stopping when the light is red a standard of behaviour and an obligation. To mention this is to bring into the account the way in which the group regards its own behaviour. It is to refer to the internal aspect of rules seen from their internal point of view.

In sum, people do not simply recognize a behaviorial regularity but also understand its rationale as "this is how things are done." To understand a pattern of actions as a social standard of propriety is to acknowledge that the standard governs those actions. In the final analysis, then, the social standard, or, more precisely, the belief that the standard exists, explains the actions. I elaborate and clarify this relationship between norms and actions below and explain how norm-guided actions are also self-interested actions.


Beliefs explain conformity to norms in the following sense: to believe that a social standard of propriety exists is to believe that it is enforced by society and, consequently, in most cases, to engage in enforcement and self-enforcement. It is easier to grasp the logic of this relationship if we compare and contrast norms and conventions, which have been very clearly explicated by Robert Sugden. Conventions are similar to norms in that they require no external intervention (such as that of the state) to maintain them. Conventions differ from norms in that conventions are not necessarily societal obligations, enforced by society.

Sugden studies conventions as repeated coordination games and finds their emergence can be understood from a perspective of evolutionary processes. In his analysis, a convention is a state of rest in an evolutionary process. It is one of two or more possible stable (or self-enforcing) patterns of action. It is stable because "if it is generally followed in the population, any small number of people who deviate from it will do less well than the others." Over the course of many encounters, a person will find it more costly to deviate from an established convention than to follow it.

Consider the convention a strategy of action, to be played when encountering others. A convention strategy is, by definition, the unique best reply to itself: against opponents who play that strategy, people who deviate do less well than those who do not deviate. Thus individual self-interest naturally dictates following a convention, but only once it is established, that is, "generally followed." When most encounters are with opponents who play the convention strategy, deviation simply does not pay. Consequently, "once a convention has started to evolve—once significantly more people are following it than are following any other convention—a self-reinforcing process is in motion."

For example, stopping on red (and going on green) is a simple traffic convention that, despite its legal status, really does not require the force of law to sustain itself. As is the case with many conventions, it has no intrinsic merit until most people begin to adopt it as a strategy. At the point when significantly more people stop on red, deviation from the convention becomes generally more costly than conformity. Even if other motorists make adjustments as best they can, the deviant is more likely to have accidents over the course of many encounters. Stopping on red is a pure coordination game, in which no one cares what the convention is so long as there is a convention. But the same kind of reasoning applies in mixed games, in which people prefer some kinds of outcomes over others.

By Sugden's definition, it makes sense for people generally to follow an established convention. But what if, for example, out of ignorance, error, or foolishness, a person deviates from the convention strategy? Clearly, in a series of encounters, the deviant will do "less well," because of the very high probability that his opponents will be playing the convention strategy. But will the deviation matter to those opponents? And will it matter to bystanders in the population, those who do not participate in the particular encounter?

It certainly will matter once the convention is established. If a person expects his opponents to follow the convention, then self-interest dictates that he follow it too. And because he follows the convention, it is in his interest that his opponents do so too: the fewer deviants he encounters, the better he does. Moreover, bystanders in the population also find their interests threatened when a convention is flaunted: the deviant may turn up as their opponent in some future encounter! (If the logic here is not immediately evident, think again about the traffic convention of stopping on red.)

Once a convention is established, everyone is "better off" following it than deviating from it, and nearly everyone is "best off" when everyone else is following it too. This is true even if the established convention always favors opponents: the underdog still does even worse by deviating. And only if he finds himself the underdog in all encounters is he an indifferent bystander. For example, Sugden notes of the convention of property:

Clearly, this convention favours some people much more than others. Those who start out in life possessing relatively little would much prefer many other conventions—for example, a convention of equal division—to the one that has become established. Nevertheless, it is in each individual's interest to follow the established convention, given that almost everyone else does. And once a person has resolved to follow the convention, his interests are threatened by the existence of mavericks who are aggressive when the convention prescribes submission. Or in plainer English: provided I own something, thieves are a threat to me.

Up to this point, Sugden's account is not one of norm-guided actions. The reason is that deviating from a convention is inherently costly. That is, the costs result from the deviant action per se.

Norms are not self-enforcing in the sense that Sugden calls conventions self-enforcing: the costs of violating a norm do not necessarily inhere in the violation. Rather, norms are socially enforced: the costs result from society's response to violation. By that definition, then, a norm shares all the properties of a convention, except that doing "less well" refers not to the intrinsic cost of a strategy that deviates from an established norm but to the social disapproval that deviation can expect to encounter. Costs and benefits are measured in social terms. This difference between norms and conventions has two very important implications.

First, because the social enforcement of norms may be subtle and tacit, it is not very costly for opponents or bystanders to sanction deviants. Indeed, disapproval is a psychological state, which can be simply inferred: "For your ill will to cause me unease, it is not even necessary that you should choose to express it." In such a situation, it is conceivable that sanctions need be no more than imagined to have an effect. For example, when climbing across the legs of fellow moviegoers ten minutes into the main show, who needs actually to see the facial expressions of those already seated to feel culpable? The possibility of merely inferred sanctions reduces maintenance costs of established norms but also points up the crucial function of beliefs, especially in getting a norm started. For once enough people believe that a norm exists, it exists in fact. They will not only conform, but are unlikely to require concrete evidence that conformity is indeed rewarded and deviation indeed punished. Obviously, the opposite is also true. Subtle or tacit disapproval may escape the notice of those who have no reason to look for it or doubt it is being expressed.

Second, if costs and benefits are measured in social terms, then the costs of disapproval are costs only insofar as membership in society is viewed as a benefit. As society is not one undifferentiated whole, it is clear that social norms are, at base, group norms. And the community or group that imposes costs and distributes benefits is, to a large extent, defined by the individual for himself. For example, juvenile delinquents are likely to care very little about what high society thinks of them and vice versa.

Conventions can also, of course, be norms. The motorist who ignores the convention of stopping on red is clearly a menace to fellow motorists. It would be surprising if actions upholding the interests of all motorists (including, of course, the deviant himself) did not emerge as standards of correct conduct. Indeed, the attachment of norms to interests structured as conventions is an important concern in recent studies on how norms emerge.

Now there is a fairly simple answer to the question: what is the relationship between norms and actions? The core explanation is beliefs—the belief that the action matters to a group that matters. Norm-guided actions are actions performed with the understanding that a social group to which a person cares to belong expects its members to act that way and will generally favor those who do so over those who act in other ways.


The costs of deviation from a convention inhere in the deviant action per se; the costs of deviation from a norm inhere in the response of a social group. When a norm is internalized, however, the costs of deviation inhere in the conscience of the deviant.

Internalization is a process of preference formation, in which people develop moral beliefs that correspond to social standards. These beliefs, or acquired preferences, become an independent motivation to conform. Internalization changes the relationship between norms and actions. Expected social approval of conformity and disapproval of deviation is no longer the most relevant part in the calculation to act: the person who has internalized a norm simply would rather conform than deviate. Deviation from an internalized norm conflicts with personal moral beliefs and causes psychological pain, commonly called guilt.

Thus an orientation to a norm can feature two kinds of "oughtness"—a personal feeling of being obliged and a recognition of societal obligation. The former results from internalization of a norm while the latter is a defining feature of all norms. Feelings of obligation often accompany a recognition of societal obligation, although not necessarily. For example, the motorist who has internalized the convention and norm to stop on red feels compelled to stop at red lights and feels psychological pain if he deviates, whether he is apprehended or not. The motorist who has not internalized that rule may feel "caught out" if apprehended running a red light at four in the morning, but lucky otherwise. Yet both will generally stop on red and both understand that they have an obligation, in this case a legal obligation as well, to stop. The latter point is H. L. A. Hart's in his discussion of rules of obligation:

The fact that rules of obligation are generally supported by serious social pressure does not entail that to have an obligation under the rules is to experience feelings of compulsion or pressure. Hence there is no contradiction in saying of some hardened swindler, and it may often be true, that he had an obligation to pay the rent but felt no pressure to pay when he made off without doing so. To feel obliged and to have an obligation are different though frequently concomitant things.

Internalization is not the only issue pointed up by Hart's example. The deviant here is unlikely to care about the social group that cares about the norm of paying the rent. In fact, from the perspective of the "hardened swindler," the only costs to worry about are those that may ensue directly from failure to pay. While he may know about the existence of a norm to pay the rent, he presumably also knows that paying the rent is not a norm for swindlers. In Hart's example, what is a norm for others is a mere convention for swindlers, who are bound eventually to discover for themselves what Robert Sugden has described in general terms: crime does not pay.


Excerpted from Retirement of Revolutionaries in China by Melanie Manion. Copyright © 1993 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents

Figures and Tables


Introduction 3

Ch. 1 Building a Norm 22

Ch. 2 Politics and Policy 45

Ch. 3 The Decision to Retire 77

Ch. 4 A Normative View of Retirement 105

Ch. 5 After Retirement 131

Conclusion 153

Appendix: Survey Methods 165

Works Cited 179

Index 193

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