After three decades of collective leadership, strongman rule has returned to China. But do the Chinese people prefer this political system, characterized by a leader with unchecked power? Using four waves of data from the World Values Survey, this study finds, first, that from 2001 to 2018, public preference for strongman rule in China was moderate compared to other countries. Second, the Chinese people expressed a growing desire for a strongman from 2001 to 2007 and again in 2012, but this desire did not increase further between 2012 and 2018. Third, in the 2000s, trust in the central government was negatively associated with strongman preference, while in the 2010s, perceptions of national crisis and political socialization became increasingly relevant. This study evaluates the degree, dynamics, and possible drivers of public preference for strongman rule in China and contributes to the understanding of political strongmen and their popular bases worldwide.

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